Wildlife officers are investigating the illegal killing of a grizzly bear near Priest Lake, Idaho.
The bear, a 4-year-old male, roamed the Selkirk Mountains of Washington and Idaho. Biologists working to restore the species trapped and fitted it with a radio collar in May 2001 and have been tracking its movements since then.
"The loss of this bear is particularly troubling since the grizzly population in the Selkirks is only about 40 bears," said Anne Badgley, regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "This bear would have been an important addition to the breeding population."
After picking up a radio signal by aircraft, wildlife agents found the bear's carcass about seven miles west of Priest Lake on Oct. 4. It was on Lamb Creek Road, just outside Washington, the wildlife service reported in a statement released Friday.
Biologists believe the animal was shot between Oct. 1 and Oct. 4.
Grizzly bears are protected under the Endangered Species Act and can only be shot in cases of self-defense. In such cases, shootings must be reported to wildlife officers so they can be investigated. Failure to report a legal shooting is a misdemeanor.
Anyone convicted of unnecessarily killing a grizzly can be fined up to $100,000 and face a year in jail.
Biologists know of more than 20 grizzlies that have been illegally killed in the Selkirk Mountains since the early 1980s. Some were poached; others were mistaken for black bears, which are legal game.
Education campaigns have helped reduce the number of bears that are shot because they're misidentified, said Wayne Wakkinen, a biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
"It certainly was much more common in the late 1980s," he said.
The most recent illegal killing in the Selkirks was in 1999, when Idaho officials found the carcass of a male grizzly near the Canadian border. That case was not solved.
In 1996, an Idaho man was sentenced to 30 days in jail for shooting a grizzly not far from the one discovered this month. The man, who said he had mistaken the grizzly for a black bear, attempted to cover up the shooting.
In the most notorious case in the same neck of the woods, an elk hunter from Chattaroy, Wash., shot a collared bear that biologists had dubbed Sy. The man left Sy's twin cubs to die.
The hunter, who said he panicked and fled after shooting the bear, admitted his crime a month later but claimed he had been attacked. He later was fined $21,000, one of the stiffest penalties ever levied for killing an endangered species in the Inland Northwest.