Grizzly Bears in the Pacific Northwest: Part 6
Much of the opposition to the recovery efforts of the grizzly in the North Cascades stem from hikers, climbers, anglers, and other outdoor enthusiasts who fear recreating in grizzly country. Where hiking in grizzly country brings more risk, hikers in the Northern Rockies and Alaska will tell you that it brings a new thrill and sense of wildness to the outdoor experience. Being aware of how to responsibly recreate in grizzly country can greatly reduce some of the risks involved with hiking and fishing in bear country. There are many resources available on how to recreate in grizzly country from the National Park and Forest Services as well as many non-profit organizations such as; Western Wildlife Outreach, The Great Bear Foundation, and The International Grizzly Bear Committee.
What people also fail to realize is that even if the North Cascades were to start recovery of the grizzly population, it would be 25-50 years before people started to see them, and another 100 years before the population recovered completely, due to how slowly grizzlies reproduce.
The problem in the Pacific Northwest as stated above is that we have never had to deal with grizzlies unlike the people in the Northern Rockies. The only thing we know about the grizzly is from what we have seen from American culture, and unfortunately American culture has not painted an accurate portrayal of the grizzly bear. If the North Cascades is to effectively implement its recovery strategy it needs to succeed on two levels; first it needs sound science to back it up, which it has, and secondly it needs support from the public, and the only way that the public will become okay with the grizzly bear walking around in the Cascades is if we begin to tear down these false images of the grizzly and start to properly educate people.
Considering all the environmental and human barriers in the way of grizzly recovery, one has to wonder if it is worth trying to recover the grizzly to a viable population in the North Cascades at all. So much money has already been channeled into the science and government policy and very little has been done to inform the public. As part of the recovery efforts the federal government is required to draft an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which is underway for the North Cascades Ecosystem. The first step of the EIS is public scoping where the public is invited to an open house to hear about the recovery effort, ask questions, and express their opinions. In March 2015 six open houses were held throughout Washington, with a total attendance of 500 people. A few hundred people were presented this information in an area with a population of over 4 million. In order to be successful a broader audience must be reached.
Many are starting to feel that instead of channeling so much of the taxpayer’s money into policy it be re-channeled into education. Bill Sneider In Where the Grizzly Walks, states the opinion of Chuck Jonkel, president of the Great Bear Foundation in Missoula, Montana. “Instead of fighting agencies over obscure government rules and regulation and ingrained attitudes about which agency should be in control we should now emphasize education” (Sneider, 79). Sneider (2004) states that Jonkel and the Great Bear Foundation believes that existence of the grizzly bear depends on a delicate balance of social acceptance. Jonkel claims that in order to create an educational attitude that you have to get to the kids. The Great Bear Foundation does a superb job of this by sending educators equipped with bearskins, skulls, and imprints of tracks to educate the children of the Missoula area. Jonkel States in Where the Grizzly Walks, “This is so crucial. I call it perception. If people get educated about grizzly bears, then they have an educated attitude about grizzly bears” (Sneider, 81).
In the summer of 2014 Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks launched an educational initiative that involved a traveling RV equipped with bear education materials. According to Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks “The educational trailer promotes how to properly manage potential food attractants and how to recreate safely in bear country” (MFWP, 2015). The state-run agency has many non-profit, corporate, and federal government partners in collaboration with the project, which include: the International Grizzly Bear Committee, the Yellowstone Club, the Big Sky Community Corporation, the Gallatin National Forest, and many more. In this project we see the government, private, and non-profit sectors all working together to educate the public in order to ensure not only the safety of the people, but also the safety of the grizzly. A similar project is underway in Washington this summer where a bear education trailer will be stationed at Diablo Lake Overlook in North Cascades National Park along State Highway 20.
The educational approach seems to be working well in Montana and is now starting to gain ground in Washington. Maybe if we, here in Washington, start to focus more on bear education and eliminating false notions about the grizzly, we will effectively and successfully be able to recover the grizzly habitat in the North Cascades. One thing is for sure when speaking of the grizzly bear; the species has had it rough ever since European expansion westward. We are now beginning to see the merit of the great bear, and perhaps if we are willing to learn from our mistakes and reach out to properly educate the next generation, they will develop more efficient and effective management strategies in the future to help the grizzly here in Washington.
Grizzlies and humans have been closely connected for many years. We nearly exterminated them from the lower 48 states, and we have the ability to restore their population to a healthy number. What will be the future of the grizzly in the North Cascades? That will depend on our attitude and cultural perception of the great bear going into the future, and our willingness to make a few small sacrifices in order to share our wilderness.
Mike has also written Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four and Part Five of this series along with a series on wolves.