View 2 of the grizzly bear controvery

 

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.

Hank Fischer runs the Northern Rockies' office of Defenders of Wildlife. He lives in Missoula, Mont.

I think the timber people share some of our frustrations with this endless arguing. They seek some level of certainty over how these resource issues will unfold over the next 10 to 20 years. It's not just certainty over the number of trees to be cut, but certainty over a process in which they would have a fair shake.

Many times these resource issues are thrown off by an unexpected event: a lawsuit, politics. The timber industry is strong politically in the region. My group and NWF have been active with wolf reintroduction and are strong with the agencies. So this coalition can damp out political and agency fluctuations. Remember that this isn't about bears - it's about process. It's about local and industry say-so in what happens. It's not total control of the process. There are still national and state interests. But it gives them some say.

And that's important. Right now, almost 70 percent of the people in the reintroduction area want grizzlies. If we alienate part of that 70 percent by doing it in a top-down way, then we can get into trouble. Wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone took 20 years, cost a lot of money, and a lot of people are still mad. The EIS itself took 10 years and $6 million. But it took us only two years and $250,000 to do this.

But the wolf reintroduction was important. The timber industry saw that just saying no to the grizzly wouldn't solve their problems. They feared that when the political pendulum swung back our way, we'd ram grizzly reintroduction through. Our (environmental) critics say to us: "Of course. That's how you do it." One said, "Great conservation victories always come from outside the region."

But that's not true. Without local support, things rarely happen. Even in Alaska, with the Alaska lands bill, we had strong local support. We couldn't have overcome the Alaska delegation's opposition without it.

If the environmental movement doesn't change as the times change, we'll be hurt. We earned our bread and butter first by alerting the public to problems. Now people are saying to us: "Tell us how to fix things." It's not enough to just say what's wrong.

It means you have to jump in and get your hands dirty. You have to realize that humans are part of ecosystems. You have to get involved with communities. After all, we wouldn't go abroad and say: "Excuse me. We've discovered that this is an important place for biodiversity. You will have to leave."

High Country News Classifieds