By Doug Boze | @bozeandbears
Let me start off by saying that I am not against grizzly bears at all. In fact, not only are they a bucket list creature for this aging bear hunter, but they are the epitome of what encompasses a bear when I think of them: large, fierce, strong, the definition of magnificent, and suitable for their Latin name “Ursus arctos horribilis”. I think little can stop them in the wild, and they know it. For that, I love them. But do I think it is a good idea for the federal government and national park service to reintroduce them into the North Cascades of Washington state as they are currently proposing? No, I do not.
For one thing, grizzly bears are already here. The latest confirmed sighting of a grizzly bear was just outside of Rockport in 2011 by photographic evidence. So that tells me that grizzly bears are roaming around. Secondly, if a grizzly bear wanted to be in the cascades, they would. There is absolutely no physical barrier in those areas that the grizzly cannot overcome—no walls, fences, etc. It is wide open, wild, untamed land for the most part.
With that wild landscape, however, comes a lot of recreationalists in the spring, summer, and fall. In fact, you cannot drive along highway 20, which cuts right through the mountain range, without seeing lines of cars parked along the highway as an overflow from hikers. There are areas of the North Cascades that are very busy. “But they were here first!” I will hear people say. Well, they were also in the San Francisco area, so should we relocate some in the suburbs there?
The proposal by the feds has three options. Plan A) no action. As the president of the Washington chapter of the American Bear Foundation, this is the one that makes the most sense to me. As established, they are already in the area, they don’t need our help, and if the area is appropriate for their habitat, why mess with it? Allow nature to take its course. If you don’t agree that the picture proves they are there, how about the fact that we as black bear hunters must pass a grizzly bear identification test every year, provided we are hunting in the game management units of the North Cascades or northeast corner of the state. This is required by the WDFW. You don’t see duck hunters having to pass a flamingo test in Washington; that’s because we don’t have flamingos.
Plan B and C are similar: they both want to transplant 3 to 7 grizzlies over 5 to 10 years with the goal of 25 grizzlies before switching to adaptive management. The overall goal is to establish 200 grizzlies within 60 to 100 years. The big difference is plan C allows for the removal of nuisance bears when they kill or wound people, livestock, or exhibit other nuisance-like behavior. But this leaves future management of an aggressive apex predator in the hands of a game commission who thinks the term “recreational” hunting is offensive and doesn’t realize you need a trapper’s license to take a beaver. These are the people in charge of the wildlife hunting policies. So, I have little to no confidence that this species of bear will be managed by anything other than social science (that they agree with) and personally held beliefs, not sound science provided by the department biologists..
So where would Plan B or C lead us? Over the summer, there have been numerous attacks through the western states on hikers and hunters—some fatal, some not, some avoidable, and some not. We can also look back at what has happened to states that tried to manage recovered grizzly populations with highly regulated hunting, and they are met with lawsuits and sympathetic judges who never have to deal with a grizzly killing their livestock or other nuisance or deadly situations. People who speak the loudest against proper management of bears rarely ever deal with them in the city. It is the cattlemen and women, the farmers, the hunters, those who actually live and recreate in grizzly territory who are left holding the bag with the issues of what such an animal can bring. It is the exact same situation with wolves in Washington. Farmers in eastern Washington, particularly the northeast corner, are left to fend for themselves and wait for wolves to kill their livestock before a state employee shoots the wolf and tosses it in a landfill. All the while, city dwelling, special interest groups who likely never see wolves except in a zoo are halting any sort of basic delisting (which would still have the wolves protected).
Allowing grizzlies to naturally migrate down from the now non-huntable population in British Columbia (BC) would allow the local ungulates to slowly become accustomed to the new predator. But they are still dealing with our cougar, black bear, wolf, coyote, bobcat, and other predator population issues. Of course, if we were to reintroduce grizzlies, they would come from Wyoming and Montana (and BC), but each bear would be considered a loss to those populations, further lessening the chance of proper management of those populations. Although I am sure that Wyoming and Montana would be more than willing to send some our way. I guess I am ok with it, if they drop them off in Olympia!
Please take the time to search for “grizzly bear reintroduction in the North Cascades”, click on the www.fws.gov link, and comment with your thoughts on the matter in the comment portal.