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Coast to Cascades, bears to people

Posted by Joe Scott at Oct 17, 2013 02:23 PM |

If we’re not successful and governments fail to take action to help grizzly bears on the west coast, grizzlies will lose another approximately 30,000 square km of range that they now just barely occupy.

Coast to Cascades, bears to people

Grizzly bears in southern BC got a boost this month with the launch of the Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Initiative. Photo: flickr.com/hmj

After months of preparation several organizations, including Conservation Northwest launched the Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Initiative.

The collaborative effort aims to stem the ongoing loss of grizzly bears and their habitats in western North America. Despite well-publicized increases in grizzly bear numbers in the Rocky Mountains, the bears of the Coast to Cascades region continue their steady decline with little response from governments in British Columbia or the US. Our own North Cascades bears in Washington are severely endangered.

Our public campaign launch attracted some decent media attention and features a glitzy new website.

But now the real work begins. West coast grizzly bears will need widespread and consistent support from communities, business interests, and local governments to gain the traction they need with higher level political decision makers.

First Nations in particular are pivotal for encouraging government actions to protect and recover grizzly bears in the region. In fact we have taken much of our guidance for the Coast to Cascades initiative from the people whose cultures have been so tightly interwoven with the Great Bear for thousands of years. 

Many of these First Nations communities continue to fight for the ecological integrity of their traditional territories and their cultural underpinnings, as habitat continues to be eroded by the combined effects of ill-planned development.

But the real take home for this work is this:

If we’re not successful and governments fail to take action to help grizzly bears on the west coast, grizzlies will lose another approximately 30,000 square km of range that they now just barely occupy.

That’s a big hole. And it’s one they are extremely unlikely to ever fill again.

And that would be tragic, not only for the loss of the bears, but because it would indicate that we still haven’t learned the valuable lessons that history can teach: that our societies are collectively impoverished by the local loss of these animals and all the natural values they represent. 

If that sounds like some vague esoteric gibberish (something for which I have little personal tolerance) pick up any of a number of writings on grizzly bears and wild places from the likes of Chadwick, Leopold, McPhee, Kittredge, or McNamee.

Take your reading to a place like Yellowstone or Banff Parks where grizzly bears are sometimes relatively easy to see. If you’re lucky enough to see bears you will know what I’m talking about – not only by watching them but by watching the other people who are watching them.

Grizzly bears don’t reproduce or disperse nearly as well as wolves. Grizzly bear recovery is difficult and takes time. So the likelihood that they can reclaim lost habitat is not high, particularly where there are human-caused barriers like highways. It’s critical that we protect and build on grizzly populations that still exist by avoiding human conflict and further habitat damage. 

We should be able to do this. It’s not rocket science. It’s social science. But that means we have to show our governments that it’s important to us.  That's how we will recover grizzly bears in southwest BC and further south to our own North Cascades.

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