Keep Canadian grizzly bears north of border, lawmakers say


OLYMPIA, WA - 4/10/03-- A Canadian plan to introduce more grizzly bears into the North Cascades has upset some state lawmakers who fear the creatures will attack people.

The Senate has passed a petition urging British Columbia to drop its reintroduction program at the U.S. border in the North Cascades. They want Canadian officials to make sure the reintroduction program stays many miles away from the border.

Some Washington authorities don't want to see this grizzly bear from British Columbia entering the state.
Wildlife experts say lawmakers are overreacting.

The "paranoid politicians" would have more of a chance of being "endangered driving to the state Legislature in a car accident than being harmed by a grizzly bear after full recovery while hiking on their favorite trail," said Wayne McCrory, a 30-year authority on grizzly habitats who has worked as a consultant for B.C. ministries and various conservation organizations.

British Columbia's Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection has been debating its recovery plan for the grizzly for the past few months. A final plan has not been adopted, but officials want to shift six bears over the next five years into the North Cascades from coastal and central B.C. Each bear would be tagged for tracking.

The North Cascades stretch from B.C. into Washington. Bears roam between both sides of the border freely, and there are currently about a dozen bears living in that habitat now, McCrory said.

Republican senators representing rural districts, such as Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington, have said the bears would travel into Washington and use up the state's resources. Sen. Bob Morton, R-Orient, said data from Washington State University professor Charles Robbins shows the Washington state side of the North Cascades does not have enough food to support the bears.

Robbins, a bear biologist, said that is incorrect.

"There is more than enough food in the North Cascades to satisfy many grizzlies," he said. "The good senator has misrepresented my data."

Morton fears the grizzly will attack at random, especially because the area in the North Cascades continues to grow in population.

"It's one of the highest-growing areas in the state," Morton said.

Dr. Bill Gaines, with the U.S. Forest Service, said he didn't think there were enough bears to worry about.

McCrory said it will take as long as a century for the grizzly to have any sort of reasonable population in the North Cascades to cause concern for residents. And even then, he adds, there would still be fewer grizzlies than those that currently exist in Yellowstone.

The Senate's petition -- which is called a memorial -- passed out of its House committee, 8-1, last week. House fisheries Chairman Mike Cooper, D-Edmonds, supported the measure. Whether the approval of the petition will have any influence on the B.C. augmentation program is unclear.

Matt Austin, chairman of B.C.'s North Cascades Grizzly Bear Recovery team, said the provincial government was aware of the memorial and the state's possible concerns.

"At the same time, it's clear in our view the available information is it's unlikely the (grizzly bear) will survive without augmentation," Austin said.

McCrory said the Legislature's action "flies in the face of our national parks. ... What the hell ever happened to the wild and wilderness American psyche enshrined by Teddy Roosevelt?"

McCrory said the grizzly dominated the Cascades 150 years ago.

"For the long-term survival of the bear, it must be allowed to travel between borders," said Joe Foy, of the B.C.-based Western Canada Wilderness Committee. Foy said the bear's habitat in the North Cascades is a "very tenuous umbilical cord, which knows no border."

"We do not want to be like California, where the last grizzly bear's on the flag," Foy said.

Wayne Wright, a naturalist in Twisp, a small town in northern Okanogan County, supports reintroduction of grizzlies.

"It's not the bear's fault they're from Canada," Wright said, reached by phone at his rural home. "Canadian bears coming from up north don't have to stop at customs. They don't know the difference between borders. Let them come."


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