Reintroducing grizzly bears into the Cascades? Emotions ride high, as biologists sift through 3,000 just-released public comments that range from calling the bears “mystical” to “monsters that eat people, particularly women.”
Let’s flip at random through some of the just-released 3,000 public comments about putting grizzly bears — the 600-pounders who used to roam the West — back in the Cascades.
Here is a commenter from Grapeview, out in Mason County:
“First of all, why? We’ve gotten along for decades just fine without them … If I (and my .44 Magnum) survive a bear attack and the bear doesn’t … How much time in the joint will I be looking at?”
Here is one from, hmmm, all the way from San Francisco:
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“We have allowed special interest groups — hunters and ranchers — to control and ‘manage’ wild animals for too long, and only in their selfish and narrow interests. Grizzlies, wolves and mountain lions, as well as coyotes, bobcats and smaller predators, must be valued and encouraged wherever possible.”
In a way, you have to feel a little sorry for them, the Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service biologist-types assigned to draw conclusions from those 3,000 comments and six public meetings.
Emotions ride high when it comes to the grizzlies, and the feds have been tasked with putting together an environmental-impact statement.
And so they have been putting the comments into various slots, a lot of slots. The PDF for that “public scoping” report is 190 pages. You want to read everything, including every comment, you’ll be looking at 1,250 pages.
Let’s see, what slot should this one go into?
“Please ensure that there are wild grizzlies for my grandchildren to imagine roaming the mountains; even if it is unlikely they will ever see a wild one, it is important to know that they are there, living free, in our backyard of the North Cascades.”
That went into something labeled, “Concern ID: 54128 … general support for restoration.”
What with lack of funding, and getting bureaucracies to work all together, things move slowly in such matters.
A grizzly-bear recovery plan was first written more than three decades ago.
A final decision is expected in late 2017, and it could recommend anything from leaving things as is, hoping that grizzlies return on their own, to bringing in new populations.
In this state, the grizzlies would be returned to about 9,800 square miles, mostly federal lands, from the Canadian border down to Wenatchee, extending west to towns such as North Bend and Darrington.
There used to be as many as 100,000 of the creatures in the Western United States.
Now biologists guess that in Washington, there are maybe two dozen grizzlies in the Selkirk Mountains in the northeast part of the state. In the North Cascades, one was reported to have been sighted, and photographed, in 2010 by a hiker.
But Jack Oelfke, chief of natural and cultural resources for the North Cascades National Park, says subsequent photos made biologists have second thoughts — that maybe it was a black bear.
The last grizzly killed in this state was in 1967, before they were protected by law.
A Mount Vernon prospector named Rocky Wilson had gone camping with his wife, Lenora, at Fisher Basin in the Cascades.
A friend of his, the late Jim Harris, known as “Ranger Jim” at the North Cascades National Park, recounted in a memoir:
“During twilight hours, a large bear came down to the creek close by camp. Rocky lifted his old rifle and got off a good shot. While he knew it was a big ’un, he didn’t see that it had a shoulder hump and frosted coat until he got to the kill … They skinned it out and stopped by school to show us teachers and the kids. It was part of the story of their life.”
State records have the bear at 6 feet, 10 inches, “nose to tail,” and say it was tanned and displayed at a Mount Vernon sporting-goods shop from many years.
Harris said that later he asked Rocky, “What if this was the last grizzly bear in the whole country?”
Harris said he remembered Rocky sitting for a while, pondering a park that had eliminated hunting, and responding, “Well, my life will never be the same. These are all things of the past.”
The most recent confirmed grizzly sighting anywhere close to this state took place in May 2012, about 20 miles north of the Canadian border.
Researchers had set up cameras at a bait station, hoping to get images of wolverines, the ferocious carnivorous scavengers that also are making a comeback in the Cascades.
What they got was photo of a grizzly bear, which doesn’t require ID to go back and forth across international boundaries.
You certainly can’t fault the feds for not trying their best in cataloging the comments.
Fourth-fifths of them came from Washington and Oregon. The rest from all over. There was even one from Switzerland.
Not surprisingly, says Oelfke, commenters from the west side of the Cascades were more in favor than those on the east side.
Here is a commenter from Twisp in the Methow Valley:
“Will the grizzly plan be another ridiculous plan put together by a majority of environmental groups like the wolf plan was?
“ … These groups have no sympathy whatsoever for the resource users and their losses. If your going to introduce a grizzly bear in my back yard, me and my neighbors need to be the people deciding how to manage the bear, not someone in a far off city living in a condo …
“Our county is at 15% unemployment, which is one of the highest in the nation and certainly the highest in Washington state due to the loss of jobs from spotted owls, loss of water for fish and livestock being killed by wolves.”
Emotions? Here is another one:
“Please do not restore grizzly bears in the state of Washington. They are monsters that eat people, particularly women.”
More emotions? Here is a comment from Bellingham:
“The Grizzly is an icon … now extinct in all but 2% of their Lower-48 range. In California about the only grizzly left is on the state flag …
“As far as ranchers being concerned about the presence of grizzlies and their impact on livestock, it should be comforting to understand that grizzlies are loners. They are very shy …
“(We have begun) to rediscover in ourselves the deeply rooted, mystical bond between the great bears and ourselves … ”
At some point, somebody with the feds will have to make a decision.
Good luck to them.