Wandering grizzly bear astonishing biologists

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho — Ethyl, the 20-year-old wandering female grizzly, has arrived at one of the greatest grizzly bear territories in the world — Glacier National Park.

It might be only a temporary visit, knowing her — she has been roving thousands of square miles in Montana and northern Idaho for the past two years.

The latest transmission from her Argos satellite collar was on Aug. 11, when she was approximately 12 miles southeast of historic Lake McDonald Lodge.

“She’s been in Glacier Park for the past month,” said Rick Mace, a grizzly bear research biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in Kalispell, Montana.

The first transmission of the year, after she emerged from hibernation, was received May 2, when she was pinpointed five miles south of St. Regis, Montana, Mace said Friday.

Biologists flew over her then, finding her practically “rock climbing” May 5 near Dry Creek. They snapped a photograph for proof as she climbed a steep, rocky hillside.

Ethyl went on to spend June in the Bob Marshall Wilderness area, he said.

Mace said scientists don’t know exactly where she slept this past winter. It could have been in the St. Joe River drainage.

Her extraordinary wanderings were first reported in March. She had roamed from the east side of Hungry Horse Reservoir to the Panhandle National Forest.

Ethyl had been getting into trouble in her home range, going near homes and eating apples in orchards near Lake Blaine east of Kalispell. That led to her relocation east of Hungry Horse Reservoir.

After that move in September 2012, she started roaming thousands of square miles.

In mid-November 2013, she had made her way to the Magee backcountry airstrip in the upper Coeur d’Alene River Basin. In December, scientists flying overhead detected her just north of the Shoshone County Airport in Smelterville.

By late December, scientists had lost track of her.

“She’s absolutely an extraordinary mover for a female bear,” Mace said. He has never seen anything like it in his 30-year career.

“She just seems to have the wanderlust,” Mace said.

“For a female, it’s pretty cool,” said Jamie Jonkel, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks bear management specialist in Missoula. “Supposedly females don’t do that sort of thing — but boy she has.”

It’s not known why she travels so much, but it might be because she has lost her internal compass, Mace said.

Her tracking collar is scheduled to fall off her in September 2015.

Ethyl, born in 1994, was named after the property owner where she was first captured by Montana wildlife officers in September 2006.

At her age, Ethyl could definitely have cubs again, possibly up to age 28 or 30, Mace said. She could easily find a mate in Glacier.

During the observation flight back in May, Mace said she appeared healthy.

“She looked perfect,” Mace said. While also doing some climbing, she was seen eating on the side of a mountain.

She is likely doing well calorie-wise, fueling all the travel.

“We’re into a world-class huckleberry year,” Mace said.

Glacier is a great place for Ethyl, he said. If she has been to the park before, it wasn’t documented.

“It’s full of grizzlies,” he said. “And she can’t get into much trouble.”

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