NORTH CASCADES, Wash. -- A panel of bear experts have identified a bear photographed last October in Washington's North Cascade Mountains as a grizzly bear, the first reported in the North Cascades since 1996.

This is a significant event in the world of grizzly bear recovery, said Becki Heath, Chair of the North Cascades Grizzly Bear Recovery sub-committee of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC). Although grizzly bears once occupied the North Cascades, the current population appears to be at very low levels. We rarely have evidence of their presence in the ecosystem.

Joe Sebille was hiking in October of 2010 when he saw the bear feeding on a steep slope in the Upper Cascade River watershed. He watched the animal for a while, then snapped some pictures and left the area.

Sebille knew the bear didn t look like the black bears he usually sees, but he didn t realize he had seen a grizzly bear or that the sighting was unusual until he began talking about the encounter with friends and sharing his photographs. He contacted the North Cascades National Park in May 2011 to share his story and photographs.

Bear biologist Anne Braaten, also a member of IGBC, realized the significance of Sebille's discovery and contacted him. She shared Sebille's account and photographs with her peers in IGBC, who shared the information and photographs to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services bear recovery coordinator, who shared it with other bear experts. The group unanimously confirmed the animal in the photo as a grizzly bear.

While authorities receive reports of grizzly bear in the area each year, most turn out to be black bears. The photographs are the first known confirmed photos of a living North Cascades grizzly bear in a half-century.

Grizzly bears in the North Cascades are protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act and by state law. Wildlife experts believe fewer than 20 grizzly bears live in the North Cascades, and around 20 more in the Canadian Cascades.

For more information about the grizzly bear photograph, CLICK HERE.

To learn more about grizzly bears, tips on bear safety and information on the management and recovery of grizzly bear populations, visit the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee website or the Grizzly Bear Outreach Program website.

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