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Ethyl the grizzly has gone on impressive journey, traveling from Montana to Idaho

By David Cole

Coeur d'Alene Press

Published: Sunday, March 16 2014 7:55 p.m. MDT

The female grizzly Ethyl has become a seeker, a wanderer on an impressive journey from her home state to North Idaho. She has been seen in Silver Valley in Kellogg, Idaho, shown here in a 2004 file photo.

Jeff T. Green, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — The 20-year-old female grizzly Ethyl has become a seeker, a wanderer.

The Montana bear hasn't been acting her age, and fortunately researchers — with a tracking collar — have been able to document her impressive journey from her home state to North Idaho. They lost track of her exact location in late December, but starting next month they expect to pick up her signal again.

They're anxious to know where she ended up for hibernation, and where she'll venture next.

Ethyl first came to the attention of wildlife scientists and researchers through her DNA, said Wayne Wakkinen, a senior wildlife research biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game in Bonners Ferry.

In 2004, a sample of Ethyl's hair was collected around the South Fork of the Flathead River near Kalispell.

In September 2006, she was first captured after making herself at home in an apple orchard near Lake Blaine east of Kalispell.

She wasn't threatening people at the orchard, but there are homes around and she was moved and released for her safety and the public's. Better safe than sorry.

She wore a radio collar for the next six years, hung around her home range and stayed out of trouble, Wakkinen said.

In September 2012, she was picked up after finding her way to another apple orchard near Lake Blaine.

This time, in a bigger move, she was released east of the Hungry Horse Reservoir, with scientists hoping to break her habit of hitting up apple orchards in the fall.

The idea was to give her some quality country to roam around in and stay out of people's fruit.

Since then she has done some roaming — lots of it, covering thousands of square miles.

In fact, in March of last year, Ethyl was spotted near the mouth of the Blackfoot River east of Missoula.

Throughout last summer she was north of Missoula. In mid-October, she made her way to the Rattlesnake on the north end of the city, and then journeyed west of town to the Nine Mile area west of Missoula.

Her tracking collar was "on the fritz" at this point, but still working enough, sending out some signals of her location, he said.

By the middle of November she had reached North Idaho and the upper reaches of the Coeur d'Alene River to the area of the Magee backcountry airstrip.

On Nov. 24, her tracking collar slipped into battery saving mode and stopped sending signals.

Still, scientists like Wakkinen could track her from the air with a receiver.

"I located her once, straight north of the Shoshone County Airport," which is in Smelterville, Wakkinen said. She was on Thomas Hill, he said.

That was early December, when she should have been hibernating.

A week later she had moved east toward Osburn, and was hanging out in the upper end of Twomile Creek to the north of Interstate 90.

"Then we just had a bunch of crummy weather and couldn't fly," he said.

Though it was well into December, there were indications she still had not settled in for her winter sleep.

Instead, credible reports of her location came in based on sightings, he said.

She had ventured to the south side of I-90, and into the St. Joe River drainage. She was likely somewhere near Avery, he said.

"We don't know if she denned up there," he said.

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