Road to recovery or bridge to nowhere?
Grizzly bears in the Cascades, both in Washington and BC, need our help to recover.
From the fall 2012 edition of the Conservation Northwest quarterly
by Joe Scott, international programs director, Bellingham
Anyone who wants to study a real-world example of government inertia should Google “Cascades grizzly bear recovery.” Take your pick, Washington or British Columbia, they’re interchangeable when it comes to failure on behalf of grizzlies.
The inexorable erosion of the Cascades grizzly bear population is a perfect case study of the triumph of nothing over something. It’s like grizzly bears in our wild mountains never existed—and that seems to be how our respective agencies (US Fish and Wildlife Service, BC Ministry of Environment) would like them to be perceived. How else could one explain 30-plus years of inaction, denial, and stalling?
When the last legally hunted Cascades grizzly bear was shot (killed in the Cascades in Fisher Creek in 1967), there was no North Cascades National Park, Daniel Evans was Washington’s governor, and Lyndon Johnson was president. When they were first protected under the newly minted Endangered Species Act, Richard Nixon was our fearless leader and there were no Seahawks or Mariners. (I’m sure some of us wish we had more grizzlies and fewer Mariners. In fact, couldn’t we trade them to Oklahoma City for the Sonics? They like baseball there. Hm…) But I digress. This is about species, not specious professional teams.
Getting to recovery
So what’s to be done? With your support, Conservation Northwest is fighting the good fight for grizzly bears, from monitoring to connecting habitat. We are keeping the issue—and hopefully the bears—alive.
But first, a little history. For all its wilderness values and reputation for tolerance, the Pacific Northwest has been particularly hard on grizzly bears. In a mere few human generations, hunters, trappers, loggers, miners, ranchers, foresters, and your average “Joe Settler,” with the help of our governments, have succeeded in transforming more than 5,000 Cascades area grizzly bears into not many more than 5 grizzly bears in an area the size of Rhode Island. A handful of bears have hung on for dear life for several decades.
In 1997, the federal government, through the US Fish and Wildlife Service, wrote a recovery plan for the Cascades grizzly bear. Occasionally the plan is dusted off by a curious student or journalist—but mostly these days, it grows mold. Most people don’t even know it exists.
British Columbia has a grizzly bear “recovery” plan too—it called for transplanting a dozen bears into the BC Cascades after extensive consultations with stakeholders in surrounding communities over a two-year period. Provincial government biologists actually collared a dozen grizzlies in Wells Gray Provincial Park with the intent of moving them to the Cascades after a year of monitoring. When Barry Penner became Minister of Environment under Premier Gordon Campbell in 2002, he pulled the plug on the project.
So here we sit in one of the most affluent and habitat-rich corners of North America, with a desperately endangered population of grizzly bears (the last on the US Pacific Coast) and little will in either Canadian or US federal, state, and provincial governments to do anything about it.
On behalf of the Great Bear
Does that foretell the end of the grizzly bear world in the Pacific Northwest? Not really. We are doing many things on behalf of the Great Bear. And we are doing it despite government malaise and worse.