Density, distribution, and genetic structure of grizzly bears in the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem

Journal of Wildlife Management
By: , and 



The conservation status of the 2 threatened grizzly bear (Ursus arctos) populations in the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem (CYE) of northern Montana and Idaho had remained unchanged since designation in 1975; however, the current demographic status of these populations was uncertain. No rigorous data on population density and distribution or analysis of recent population genetic structure were available to measure the effectiveness of conservation efforts. We used genetic detection data from hair corral, bear rub, and opportunistic sampling in traditional and spatial capture–recapture models to generate estimates of abundance and density of grizzly bears in the CYE. We calculated mean bear residency on our sampling grid from telemetry data using Huggins and Pledger models to estimate the average number of bears present and to correct our superpopulation estimates for lack of geographic closure. Estimated grizzly bear abundance (all sex and age classes) in the CYE in 2012 was 48–50 bears, approximately half the population recovery goal. Grizzly bear density in the CYE (4.3–4.5 grizzly bears/1,000 km2) was among the lowest of interior North American populations. The sizes of the Cabinet (n = 22–24) and Yaak (n = 18–22) populations were similar. Spatial models produced similar estimates of abundance and density with comparable precision without requiring radio-telemetry data to address assumptions of geographic closure. The 2 populations in the CYE were demographically and reproductively isolated from each other and the Cabinet population was highly inbred. With parentage analysis, we documented natural migrants to the Cabinet and Yaak populations by bears born to parents in the Selkirk and Northern Continental Divide populations. These events supported data from other sources suggesting that the expansion of neighboring populations may eventually help sustain the CYE populations. However, the small size, isolation, and inbreeding documented by this study demonstrate the need for comprehensive management designed to support CYE population growth and increased connectivity and gene flow with other populations.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Density, distribution, and genetic structure of grizzly bears in the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem
Series title Journal of Wildlife Management
DOI 10.1002/jwmg.1019
Volume 80
Issue 2
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher The Wildlife Society
Contributing office(s) Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Description 18 p.
First page 314
Last page 331
Country United States
State Idaho, Montana
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details