Bearly hanging on in the North Cascades

 

The following two comments were posted at hcn.org in response to Nathan Rice's feature story, "The Forgotten Grizzlies" (HCN, 11/14/11).


"The forgotten grizzlies" seems to suggest two things: (1) More research would somehow improve the chance for the grizzly bear to come in to the North Cascades. (2) More money would somehow allow the introduction of non-resident bears. On the first point, it is not clear that more studies would actually help the bears. The area includes designated wilderness, a national park, and a national recreation area. So what management changes would help the bears return? The Forest Service already has a plan to prevent loss of habitat, grizzly bears are not hunted, and nothing is stopping the bears from migrating into the area. Black bears are doing quite well in the area. Maybe grizzly bears are not pushing themselves into this area because they have better conditions elsewhere. Or, maybe they actually need more help somewhere else that is a better core area for them.

George Winters
Darrington, Washington

George, Good Points

The research may shed light on the status of the Cascades grizzly bear population, particularly whether there are breeding females and how they're related to bears in British Columbia. That information may in turn tell us something about connectivity between populations. Understanding their demography might also inform recovery actions -- for example, whether augmenting the population with bears from other systems is an appropriate strategy. We believe it is not only appropriate, but necessary for recovery.
The North Cascades grizzly bear recovery zone is already protected in a network of parks, wilderness and other designations. The habitat is extensive and very high quality. But grizzly bears are notoriously slow to reproduce and disperse. Females, the drivers of population growth, adopt home ranges that mostly overlap that of their mothers. And we know virtually nothing about the status of grizzly bears on the Canadian side of the Cascades except that there are very few animals. In fact, all of the populations in southern British Columbia are threatened and in need of recovery actions themselves. And every year, bears from those populations are lost to poaching and mistaken identity by black bear hunters. Natural recolonization for the Cascades will be slow and depend on protecting the bears in British Columbia and maintaining habitat connections.

Joe Scott
International Conservation Director, Conservation Northwest
Bellingham, Washington