BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Two conservation groups are offering to pay $6,500 in reward for information leading to the arrest and a conviction in the case of a grizzly bear killed near the Idaho-Montana border last fall.
Since the bear's disappearance, the Western Watersheds Project and Cottonwood Environmental Law Center have been trying to figure out what happened to the bear, known as grizzly 726.
Both groups have been pressing state and federal officials since the bear's collar was recovered from a stream on the U.S. Sheep Experimentation Station in September, just 18 days after biologists captured and fitted the predator with a radio collar.
The groups say the collar was cut and then willfully hidden in the stream. The 400-pound bear, estimated to be four-years-old, was last recorded in an area with a flock of government-owned sheep in the Centennial Mountains in Montana's southwest corner.
Hunters were ruled out as suspects after being interviewed by investigators. But a single rifle cartridge was discovered near where the bear was last located alive Aug. 30. A sheep herder from the U.S. Sheep Research Station, which grazes in the remote forested land, had been stationed in the same area where the cartridge was found at around the same time, according to the report.
However, the report was inconclusive as to who might have killed the bear and whether the rifle cartridge had any connection to the case.
The reward is the latest attempt by the environmental groups to figure out what happened to the bear and take a closer look at activities on the sheep station.
The station is operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and grazes about 2,000 sheep on 16,000 acres of land high in the mountains — an area biologists contend is also a prime travel corridor connecting Idaho and Yellowstone National Park for threatened grizzly bears.
Last month, the groups sued the government in federal court challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's formal opinion that no grizzly mortalities have occurred in or near the station in the recent past.
In their lawsuit, the groups challenge that belief and cite records obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request showing multiple grizzly deaths near the sheep station in the past eight years.
The groups are asking a federal judge in Idaho to shut down grazing at the station until federal biologists can draft another biological opinion that considers past grizzly mortality in the area.
Anyone with information about the death of grizzly 726 is urged to call Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks tip hotline.