It seems a deal made in heaven. The timber industry in the Northern Rockies and two major environmental groups have agreed to back the restoring of grizzly bears to central Idaho and western Montana.
The proposal is not trivial.
The land area - 5,500 square miles - is as big as the area 236
grizzly bears now occupy in and around Yellowstone. The goal is
eventually to see 200 to 300 bears roaming the Selway-Bitterroot
and Frank Church River of No Return wilderness areas. The bears
would be reintroduced into wilderness, but they are expected to
quickly spread onto surrounding national forest and private
The politics surrounding this proposal is
enough to make anyone pinch herself. In Idaho, which has 80 percent
of the reintroduction area, three of the four members of the
conservative Idaho congressional delegation more or less back the
proposal. The opponent is freshman Rep. Helen Chenoweth. In
Montana, Gov. Marc Racicot is a strong supporter, despite furious
opposition from several thousand people in the suburbanizing
Bitterroot Valley, just east of the two wilderness areas
If and when the idea reaches the administration,
President Bill Clinton will probably welcome it as a sign of a new,
effective and efficient brand of environmentalism. Instead of the
two decades and several million dollars wolf reintroduction cost,
the grizzly process might take no more than two years, and cost a
piddling $250,000. And instead of a Wyoming livestock industry that
still passionately resists the wolves, the dominant on-the-ground
population in central Idaho - timber workers - are united behind
The story has played well across the
region, with the only negative editorials being those chastising
Chenoweth and her supporters for knocking the proposal. It has also
done well nationally, with Peter Jennings' nightly news show on ABC
showing environmentalists, loggers and executives standing
shoulder-to-shoulder for the bear. The only carping note came from
a horse breeder who didn't want her $10,000 animals anywhere near
free-range grizzlies. The good news is already back in Washington,
D.C., thanks to an Oct. 29, 1995, story by Tom Kenworthy in the
Washington Post. The photo with the article showed Hank Fischer of
Defenders of Wildlife flanked by two timber industry allies: Seth
Diamond of the Intermountain Forest Industry Assocation and Dan
Johnson of the Resource Organization on Timber Supply
Missing from the photo was attorney Tom
France of the National Wildlife Federation, who says that being
allied with the timber industry is "like walking around with a
(friendly) 800-pound gorilla."
On the surface,
then, the results so far indicate that consensus can create more
than good feelings; it can also produce impressive change on the
But it is not just Helen Chenoweth who
hasn't gotten the consensus religion. With the exception of
Defenders and National Wildlife Federation, almost every
environmental group in the region, from the no-compromise Alliance
for the Wild Rockies to centrist outfits like the Greater
Yellowstone Coalition and Idaho Conservation League, vigorously
oppose the proposal. These dozen or so groups say it is a bad deal
for any Canadian grizzly unlucky enough to be dumped into Idaho.
They believe the bear's chances for survival will be low, because
the reintroduction proposal says absolutely nothing about how the
national forest land will be managed. They also say it sets a
terrible precedent for managing public land and other endangered
They have two objections. First, the
agreement specifically states that nothing is being said about
habitat protection of the national forest and private lands
surrounding the wilderness areas. That is left for separate
decision-making forums. Second, the introduced bears will be a
so-called nonessential population, and outside the protection the
Endangered Species Act normally confers. Decisions about killing or
removing a problem bear will be made by a 13-person citizens'
committee appointed by the governors of Idaho and Montana. The
committee will operate under a direct grant of power from the
secretary of Interior, bypassing normal agency procedures.
These two concessions by France and Fischer
brought the timber industry and the local communities in central
Idaho on board. It meant jobs and recreation were safe from bear
reintroduction. But it also brought most of the Northern Rockies'
environmental groups into opposition.
the opposing groups outnumber those who favor the proposal, so far
they have been outmatched. Fischer, France and their timber allies
are a powerful coalition. The timber industry has taken care of
congressional and statehouse politics. Most important, industry's
assurance that this proposal doesn't threaten jobs has unleashed
the pro-wildlife instincts in small, working towns such as Orofino
and Grangeville. According to a poll, two-thirds of the people who
will have to live with the bears day-to-day favor reintroduction.
And loggers and mill workers have been vociferous in their support,
unlike those living in the suburbanizing communities in Montana's
Bitterrroot Valley, east of Idaho's Selway-Bitterroot wilderness.
With the Democratic administration aboard, and
with timber convincing Idaho Republican senators Larry Craig and
Dirk Kempthorne that reintroduction is a great idea, the Fish and
Wildlife Service has come up with enough money to produce an
environmental impact statement by this June after an
extraordinarily short gestation period.
will almost certainly contain as the preferred alternative the
recommendation that came out of talks between the two environmental
groups and timber industry executives and unions. Then the battle
Here is what each side will say.