Volunteer grizzly bear advocates have produced several new research studies contending that the Bitterroot Mountains along the Montana-Idaho border have strong potential for recovering the threatened species.
The 5,830-square-mile Bitterroot Recovery Zone is one of six federally designated recovery areas for grizzly bears, but the only one with no confirmed resident grizzlies.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considered transplanting grizzlies there, but shelved the plan in 2000. Since then, a few grizzlies have made forays into the region. Others have moved through the nearby Sapphire and John Long Mountains east of the Bitterroot Valley and explored Montana’s Big Hole Valley farther south.
“Idaho on a percentage basis has the most potential suitable grizzly habitat of any state in the western United States,” said David Mattson, a grizzly researcher in Livingston, who released “The Grizzly Bear Promised Land: Past, Present and Future of Grizzly Bears in the Bitterroot, Clearwater, Salmon and Selway Country” last week.
“It’s equal to what’s realized in Greater Yellowstone and the Northern Continental Divide in the number of bears that could be supported,” Mattson said.
Those two recovery areas, anchored by Yellowstone and Glacier national parks respectively, together hold almost 2,000 grizzly bears. When the bear earned Endangered