View 1 of the grizzly bear controversy

  • Grizzly mama and cub

    Leon Jenson

Note: This article is a sidebar to one of this issue's feature stories, Bringing back grizzlies splits environmentalists, in a special issue about collaboration in the West.

Tom France is an attorney with the National Wildlife Federation. He lives in Missoula, Mont. He is a board member of High Country News.

It was at the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee meeting in Denver in winter 1993. Dan Johnson, who heads up ROOTS - Resource Organization on Timber Supply - made an impassioned speech that ROOTS really opposed grizzly bear reintroduction. But if it's going to happen, he said, we want a place at the table.

Hank (Fischer) and I independently sought him out at the break: "What did you mean by that?" we asked.

As a result of that talk, Dan brought three union guys to Missoula - they were big guys, they sort of filled my office - from Lewiston (Idaho). We met a few times and it helped, but...

About then, IFIA (Intermountain Forest Industry Association) hired Seth Diamond from the U.S. Forest Service. He brought an organization to the table with more hitting power and knowledge of how the biology worked. That was in mid-1994.

Eventually, we reached agreement on two pages of principles and we sent them to all the groups we could think of. We got outraged letters back from the Idaho Conservation League, Audubon, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and others. They told us what was wrong with our principles. The Alliance for the Wild Rockies also gave us some grief.

Why would industry go along with grizzly bear reintroduction? I put it down to the leadership of a few companies. They see it as something they can do without compromising their larger agenda. When we first started meeting, we were just trying to see if there was an opportunity. In the course of those meetings, we all recognized that this didn't have to be a big wolf dustup.

As those conversations went forward, Seth and Bill Mulligan (then an executive with Weyerhaueser) began to think this was a hell of a good thing. They liked the idea of bears, and they liked the idea of citizen management. Also, I think the timber guys believe their own rhetoric: that timber can coexist with wildlife. And how better to prove that than with grizzly bears. It's a vision of a few guys in the industry - Seth (Diamond) and Bill and Dan - and at some cost to themselves, they've moved it forward.

There are no direct benefits to the timber industry, but neither are there any costs. And they've gained an enormous amount of press. They'll cite this at every congressional hearing for the next 20 years. And they should.

The key to grizzly survival is more about motorized access than about logging. Road densities and human use have a greater impact than cutting down trees. Usually, logging and access go together, but they don't have to. NWF regularly appeals timber cuts that don't consider closing and then reclaiming roads. Road closures are controversial. The easiest thing is simply close up the forest and go home.

At times, the timber industry has been an important ally in this fight. The most important example is the Deer Lodge National Forest plan. The timber industry joined us and forced our plan down the forest's throat. In four years, they haven't built a single mile of permanent road. That's also where the industry parts ways with motorized recreation. I think that sets an example for what will happen once the bear is reintroduced into the Selway-Bitterroot area. But it's not an explicit part of the plan.

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