Possible grizzly sighting bears further scrutiny, officials say
Friday, September 29, 2006
By BOBBY MAGILL
The Daily Sentinel
Ghost grizzlies or real grizzlies, whatever species of bruin two hunters saw near Independence Pass recently has wildlife managers sniffing for clues.
Two hunters who said they have experience with black and grizzly bears claim they spotted three grizzlies near Independence Pass in the San Isabel National Forest on Sept. 20, the Colorado Division of Wildlife announced Thursday.
The chance the hunters spotted a grizzly is slim, but the division is taking the alleged sighting seriously enough to post signs warning forest visitors a grizzly may be in the area, division spokesman Tyler Baskfield said.
Only black bears are thought to exist in Colorado.
The hunters reported watching a female grizzly and two cubs from a distance of about 80 yards through binoculars and a spotting scope, but they were unable to find scat or tracks after the bears moved on.
Grizzlies are thought to be extinct in Colorado, and if the sighting is confirmed, it would be the first grizzly bear to be found in the state since 1979, when Colorado’s known grizzly was killed in the South San Juan Wilderness.
Before that, the last confirmed grizzly sighting in Colorado was in 1956, Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton said.
“We’re taking this on a day-by-day basis,” Baskfield said. “We’ve made a decision to sign the general area of the sighting to alert people of the possible presence (of a grizzly). Until we get some physical evidence, we’re going to concentrate on the investigation.”
The names of the hunters were unavailable, and Baskfield declined to give specifics about where the hunters allegedly sighted the grizzlies or what such a sighting, if confirmed, might mean.
Colorado grizzly expert David Petersen said he believes a confirmed native grizzly sighting would mean the bear’s habitat would be protected under the Endangered Species Act.
In the early 1990s, Petersen, a Durango writer and member of the Colorado Roadless Area Review Task Force, studied the history of grizzly bears in Colorado and wrote about his findings in his book, “Ghost Grizzlies.”
He said the last credible evidence of a grizzly here was uncovered in 1995, but the bear was never found, and no other evidence has surfaced since. If a grizzly bear exists in Colorado, he said, wildlife managers would try to track it, take DNA samples and figure out where it came from.
Such a bear could have wandered down from Wyoming, Petersen said.
If it turned out to be a grizzly native to Colorado, it could cause wildlife managers to cancel the fall bear hunting season.
“If they determined it was a Wyoming bear, who knows? They might haul it back home,” he said.
“If they determine it was a native bear, they’d let it go and hope it led them to other native bears.”
“That would be the end of peace and quiet for that bear,” encouraging an “army of thrill seekers” and others, perhaps with dishonorable motives, to follow the bears around, Petersen said.
“I’d rather they just be allowed to live out the remainder of their lives (in peace),” he said.
Petersen said he believes the alleged grizzly sighting is invalid and that any remaining grizzlies lurking in Colorado forests wouldn’t likely make Independence Pass their home.
Petersen and others have speculated that only the remote South San Juan Wilderness, where the last known Colorado grizzly was shot in 1979, could be remote and isolated enough for grizzlies to survive.
He said he believes there are too many people in Colorado for grizzlies to have survived here.
Any remaining grizzlies, he said, would have little chance of surviving on their own.
Bobby Magill can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.