Image Credits: Robin Silver.
I’m not gonna lie. I’m afraid of bears. I don’t think I ever recovered from learning that a grizzly bear had killed a camper in his tent in Yellowstone Park on the same night that I was camping there with my brother in 1982. I revisited Yellowstone a few years ago, armed with bear spray, and I had a wonderful time. But I was still pretty anxious when hiking in remote areas. We did come across a carcass a mountain lion had munched, so maybe I was worried about encountering the wrong predator.
Where I live in Pennsylvania, we do have black bears, but I’ve never seen one and they don’t worry me as much. In any case, I will admit I’d be concerned if the federal government announced that they were introducing grizzly bears on nearby federal land. And that’s what the Biden administration has done with respect to Washington state’s North Cascades.
The North Cascades ecosystem — a largely undeveloped 6.1 million acres that holds wild animals, rainforests, glaciers and meadows — was home to grizzly bears for centuries until hunters decimated them in the 19th and 20th centuries, when thousands of hides were shipped from area trading posts.
By the time grizzly bears were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1975, few remained in the North Cascades, Servheen said. The last one was spotted in 1996.
The plan is to introduce up to seven grizzlies a year until there are twenty-five. They expect it will take 60-100 years for this population to grow to two hundred. Currently, the plan is receiving public comment, and there’s some vociferous opposition, as detailed in a panicked coverage from Fox News.
“Nobody needs grizzlies, nobody needs wolves,” another resident added during the event last week. “And the thing we need even less than that is the Department of Fish and Wildlife. These guys know nothing about fish, they don’t care about wildlife. All they want to do is ruin the most important people, which is farmers and ranchers who grow our food. There’s no reason for these people, there’s no reason for grizzly bears.”
“If any grizzly bear comes around my place, I’m shooting it,” he said.
Native Americans have a different view.
Tribes and conservation groups say that bears belong on the land. Grizzly bears would be moved from well-populated areas, such as the Yellowstone region, to the North Cascades each summer until the population became big enough to sustain itself…
…Scott Schuyler, a policy representative for the Upper Skagit tribe, said he would support making the bears an experimental population “if it ultimately achieves the end” goal of reintroducing grizzlies. “We’re hopeful that things will proceed,” he said.
“We feel this inherent hereditary need to protect the creatures in the environment and speak for them, and in particular the ones that have been lost,” Schuyler said. He noted that his people once coexisted with grizzlies and, like the bears, were threatened with removal by settlers. “The grizzly bear’s survival is, in a sense, the survival of our culture, our history.”
Schuyler’s mention of an “experimental population” is a reference to one of the three proposed plans. By designating the bears as experimental, it gives the government more leeway to intervene when the bears stray onto private property. It’s the Fish & Wildlife Service’s attempt at a compromise solution.
Leading the opposition is local U.S. Congressman Dan Newhouse.
“As a farmer, I worry not only about the bears destroying my crops, but for the safety and well-being of myself, my family, and my on-farm hands,” Newhouse remarked during the session. “It is clear you all know that grizzlies can and probably will move out of the zone in which you drop them in, yet rather than letting common sense prevail, are continuing to push forward with this dangerous plan.”
Obviously, one problem is that the bears are protected, so you can’t simply shoot them if they come on your property. But even if you could shoot them, I can understand why it’s something you’d rather not worry about. So, I know it’s easy for me to casually support this program knowing that living thousands of miles away it will have no impact on me.
On the other hand, there are only a handful of places in the country suitable for the re-introduction of grizzlies.
Bringing them back would be the culmination of a decades-long effort to restore grizzly bears to the ecosystem, one of six spots in the country where federal biologists have aimed to recover decimated populations.
I can’t accept that there’s nowhere in our country where grizzly bear populations can be introduced. And I know there will be understandable resistance to it.
But sometimes we just need to suck it up and have some courage. Easy to say, harder to do.