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Grizzly bear thrills - and a transfusion

Posted by Joe Scott at May 05, 2011 10:10 AM |

The PBS program Nature is showing three episodes this month featuring my friend Chris Morgan and the bears of Alaska. I’m thrilled for Chris and the success he’s achieved with his fresh, exciting, and unvarnished approach showcasing bears in some of the last remaining wild habitats on earth. This stuff gives me the chills; the good chills like you get when the knockout babe in history class gives you that “you may have a shot” look. I’m a “nature” show junkie and have seen hundreds of wildlife treatments. But this one is very visceral. It’s not without some sadness, however, that I watch such compelling programs. Grizzly bears have always been on the front lines in the battle against species extinctions in North America – first to go and last to return. And nowhere is that truer than in our Washington and British Columbia Cascades...

Grizzly bear thrills - and a transfusion

Chris Morgan's "Bears of the Last Frontier" is a knockout. Cascades grizzly bears need the same thrilling attention. Alaskan brown bear, photo by Chris Morgan

The PBS program Nature is showing three episodes this month featuring my friend Chris Morgan and the bears of Alaska. I’m thrilled for Chris and the success he’s achieved with his fresh, exciting, and unvarnished approach showcasing bears in some of the last remaining wild habitats on earth.  

This stuff gives me the chills; the good chills like you get when the knockout babe in history class gives you that “you may have a shot” look. Admittedly for me that was a long time ago but bear with me, I’m trying to relate to a younger audience. Besides I’m old, not dead!

Anyway, I’ve seen a trailer of the first show and it is really, really good. It just grabs you and thrusts you into the wild among these amazing animals. I’m a “nature” show junkie and have seen hundreds of wildlife treatments. But this one is very visceral. 

It’s not without some sadness, however, that I watch such compelling programs. Grizzly bears have always been on the front lines in the battle against species extinctions in North America – first to go and last to return. And nowhere is that truer than in our Washington and British Columbia Cascades.

Cascades grizzlies were essentially doomed from persecution and overhunting decades ago – their numbers so drastically reduced that they remain so, despite not being hunted since the late ‘60s.

They languish in US government recovery planning limbo because they need more than just to be left alone. They need a transfusion. They need a real commitment to recovery in the form of bear transplants from other areas.

And that’s a political, not a biological thing. Grizzly bears aren’t condors or turkeys or pronghorn. They’re certainly cuter, but they’re still grizzly bears and many of the media have given them a worse rep than they deserve.

I’ll admit some can be a little testy at times and have attacked people. But attacks are still extremely rare and mostly preventable. If they weren’t, Planet Green would likely not rank Glacier National Park, where there are more than 700 grizzly bears, as the fifth best US national park in which to take a hike. Grizzly bears mostly want to be left alone.

The upside of the grizzly bear situation in the Cascades is the habitat – the major limiting factor for grizzly bear recovery in most of their huge former range. The North Cascades is designated by the US Fish & Wildlife Service as a “Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone.” At about 10,000 square miles, it’s large, secure, and suitable for a self-sustaining grizzly bear population – and that’s just on the US side. There’s contiguous sizable habitat in British Columbia as well.

At Conservation Northwest we’re working with BC partners to find grizzlies with remote sensing cameras and other methods and engaging with stakeholders and forest companies. We want to secure sensitive habitats including critical linkage zones to larger grizzly bear populations to the north and west of the Cascades. And since grizzly bears are intertwined with First Nations’ cultures in the Fraser River basin, we are working with those communities in the common interest of the people and the bear.   

Grizzly bear recovery is a big job, but it’s doable. And it’s an opportunity that exists in few other places in the lower 48 states. But it’s got to be a priority, otherwise it won’t happen. People need to speak out or we will lose more than the Cascades grizzly bear. We will have surrendered yet again to the forces that drive grizzlies and dozens of other species ever northward and out of our lives and wildlands.

The grizzly bear is not just an animal but a symbol of everything wild. The question is not whether we can afford to recover grizzly bears here in the PNW but whether we can afford to lose them.

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species recovery

Posted by Barbara Christensen at May 13, 2011 12:23 PM
I'd heard the largest threat to species was habitat degradation and global warming, not hunting.

With our forests and wilderness areas over run with mountain bikers and dog walker, and more people building their dream home to cyber commute from, it seems like all animals are much more pressured from photographers than hunters who have been gone for 50 years.

Just sayin.

thanks for your thoughts

Posted by Barbara Christensen at May 13, 2011 12:31 PM
Hey, anonymous-- It really depends on the geography what threats are. In the deep, wild of North Cascades National Park, human influence is much smaller, and it is connectivity and pressure from development outside the park that hurt bears. But in BC, just north of the park, hunting remains a big issue for those populations. And those populations are the ones that would feed our US populations, if we can keep the landscape connected and wild enough. In short, there is no easy one "villain" answer, and we need to do all we can to reduce the intense pressure on these amazing animals!

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