Last week Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said the federal government will scrap a plan to reintroduce grizzly bears into the North Cascades in Washington state.
That’s the right call and will bring some measure of relief to ranchers and fruit producers in the area who opposed the plan.
Grizzly bears were once abundant in the North Cascades, but there hasn’t been a confirmed sighting there since 1996. Under the Obama administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service drew up several scenarios in which bears would be captured elsewhere and released a handful at a time, gradually building the population to 200 over 25 to 100 years.
By any measure, the plan to move hundreds of grizzly bears into the 9,500-square-mile North Cascades Ecosystem presented a huge risk to the people who live, work and recreate in that region. No other region where grizzly bears live is as populous as Washington state.
Ranchers, whose livelihoods depend on their ability to graze livestock in the area, correctly opposed the grizzly plan. They know their cattle will become a prime target for any bear in search of a meal. They also fear that anyone who comes across a grizzly could pay a steep price.
April Clayton, an orchardist and president of the Chelan-Douglas County Farm Bureau, said she would have expected grizzly bears to move down from the Cascades and into north-central Washington’s tree fruit areas.
“Bears love pears. They’re not going to stay in their zone,” she said. “And once there’s bear scat in the orchard, good luck getting a crew to go through to work it.”
Grizzlies are magnificent animals.
Of all the apex predators found in the wilds of North America, nothing beats the grizzly bear. Large males can grow to nearly 800 pounds and stand almost 10 feet tall on their hind legs. They have big paws with sharp claws and a crushing bite.
Grizzly bears are generally shy and avoid humans, but are unpredictable. They will attack in defense of themselves and their young. They run fast and can kill mammals as large as bison and moose. Hungry bears view humans as prey.
It is not for nothing that it is classified as Ursus arctos horribilis — terrifying bear.
While the government’s decision is good news for ranchers, fruit growers and other opponents, this is unlikely to be the last word. Advocates have already suggested legal action and the decision could be reversed by a more sympathetic administration.
We’ve always believed that all of God’s creatures deserve a place in the wild, including grizzly bears. But this was the wrong place.