Could Grizzlies Make Good Neighbors?

For 20,000 years, grizzly bears padded over Washington’s North Cascades, foraging for berries and plants, hunting small prey, and fishing for salmon in frigid streams. Then a few centuries ago, white settlers showed up and starting shooting, and driving the bears out. Today only a handful of grizzlies remain in these mountains.

Documentaries and fictional films, from Grizzly Man to The Revenant, and plain old common sense have taught that Ursus arctos horribilis is an Animal to Be Avoided. But what if we learned to share some space with the grizzly, namely about 2.6 million acres of wilderness in remote north-central Washington State? Only four grizzly bear sightings have been confirmed in this region in the past decade, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service (which are co-leading the restoration talks) estimate that the area could support as many as 280 of the animals.

Because the grizzly bear is a threatened species, the FWS must draft a plan to help the population recover in areas where it’s warranted. According to Ann Froschauer, a FWS public affairs supervisor, there are four options. Option A is basically doing nothing and hoping the grizzly recovers on its own—an idea that’s a bit fanciful considering the grizzly’s dismal numbers. Options B and C involve capturing grizzlies from populations in Montana or British Columbia and gradually releasing them into the North Cascades. And then there’s fast and furious Option D, which would entail releasing as many grizzlies as possible until reaching the goal of 200 bears.

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