Chris Morgan's Wildnotes

How do YOU feel? The North Cascades grizzly bears of Washington State

patty_perone_2
A family of brown/grizzly bears. Thank you for this beautiful image Patty Perone.

Here are my official comments about the North Cascades grizzly bear EIS – submitted to the National Park Service today at: https://parkplanning.nps.gov/commentForm.cfm?documentID=64266

[In short, I wholeheartedly support steps being taken by the Federal Government to fully restore the North Cascades grizzly bear population].

[These opinions are my own and do not represent the position of Western Wildlife Outreach, the non-advocacy public service organization I co-founded and continue to serve as advisor].

Thank you to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the USDA Forest Service, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for initiating this important process.

I emigrated to the USA in 1997. Part of the appeal of this amazing country is something that many people here take for granted – it’s WILDNESS. When I hike the mountains of my native home in the UK, there is something missing. Grizzly bears have not walked those hills for one thousand years. And with them went all sense of wildness. The window of opportunity to restore some of our wild planet has long been closed in most parts of the world. But it is different in Washington State. Here, the window is still open, and it is a moment in time we should grasp with pride and excitement. The grizzly bear will sit atop a suite of majestic carnivores that STILL call this home – wolves, lynx, mountain lions, black bears, wolverine….

But it’s clear that the tiny number of grizzly bears thought to exist in the North Cascades can’t recover without active help in the form of augmentation. The history of this most successful and historically widespread of the bear species shows that with a little support, recovery should be not only possible, but widely beneficial in so many ways. Their ecological and cultural roles are clear, but their economic, and spiritual roles should also be considered. Our future depends upon the types of wild places that grizzly bears represent.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work on bear research, education, and conservation projects all over the world for the last 25 years. In 1994 and 1995 I captured, radio-collared and tracked grizzly bears by foot for 2000 miles over 2 seasons in the Canadian Rockies, learning from them as I went. I only saw a handful. Since then I’ve spent thousands of hours among grizzly bears in Alaska, and I’ve been lucky enough to escort some wonderful people to enjoy them first hand. But my proudest work has been here with the creation of the Grizzly Bear Outreach Project (now Western Wildlife Outreach). We have worked since 2001 to bring an accurate understanding about grizzly bears and recovery to local communities of the North Cascades – in close partnership with state and federal agencies, and with the IGBC. But most importantly, with local community members. And wherever we go we find a very high level of support for grizzly bear recovery. Our rigorous polls tell us that local people think bears are an essential component of the North Cascades ecosystem (81% agree), that they were here before humans and have an inherent right to live here (76% agree), that they should be preserved for future generations (86% agree). 79% said they support recovery. The vast majority STRONGLY agreed with these statements.

It’s unfortunate that the vocal minority opposed to grizzly bear recovery muddies the water with inaccuracies and myth – something that the grizzly bear has faced since the days of Lewis and Clark. The economics also speak for themselves. Studies in Yellowstone have shown that people flock to the place to see grizzly bears – they are THE prime reward. The presence of grizzly bears there results in 155 local jobs and $10M per year injected into local communities. Research shows that people would pay even MORE than they already do to enter the park if they were guaranteed to see a griz.

My work as a TV host for PBS, BBC, National Geographic allows me the privilege of sharing the wonders of the wild with people, and the grizzly bear holds a special place in viewers’ minds. Our films about them have held audiences of many millions captive all over the world. For good reason it seems. People find them irresistible and fascinating. In fact, it is VERY difficult for a reasonable person to argue that grizzly bears are a bad thing. The facts speak for themselves. But grizzly bears are wild animals, and CAN be dangerous – many people fear them for this reason. We should not shy from the truth, but merely place it in context, and treat people’s opinions with respect and consideration.

I’m clearly an advocate for the wild, and for me the grizzly bear is the clearest manifestation of wilderness alive in the world today. But I’m also pragmatic and fair. Steps towards recovery have to be open, transparent, communicated well, inclusive, and with consideration for those who might be at first deny the benefits of bear recovery. Social science has proven that effective programs are based on fairness, familiarity, and control – when stakeholders feel that they are being treated fairly, have access to knowledge to increase familiarity, AND feel that they have a sense of control in matters, then much can be accomplished. Education and outreach should be given the highest possible priority as a result. Not just teaching passive audiences, but engaging active communities in the process – buy-in will be key, and will result in true benefits for all. Outreach can help stakeholders and communities move with the recovery process, checking off practical and emotional needs along the way like the need for information on safety and sanitation, ecology and behavior, and the recovery process itself. Time is on our side to do this right, and open communication is key.

But beyond the practical considerations, grizzly bears keep a part of us close to nature. They represent the things we all need – clean air, fresh water, intact natural resources. Like us, they are demanding – but they are also our best ally on a rapidly developing planet. The restoration of this unique grizzly bear population represents a golden opportunity for bears, for conservation, for our world. Let’s show the rest of the world that this corner of the United States is ready to do something special, and huge for the natural world that we owe so much.

Whether we are ever lucky enough to see one or not, just knowing they are out there is a powerful tonic in a world that needs a little more nature. They teach us about ourselves, keep us humble, and are a part of our wild west heritage – perhaps THE most vivid part imaginable. If you don’t believe me, just take a hike in the Scottish Highlands.

Chris Morgan, MS Ecology
Ecologist, Conservationist, bear specialist
TV Host/Film Producer

4 thoughts on “How do YOU feel? The North Cascades grizzly bears of Washington State”

  1. Thanks for this, Chris. So well said. I hope a wide audience gets the opportunity to read this.
    If everyone could just see a bear in the wild…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: