Grizzlies get county's vote - County Council backs B.C. effort to introduce bears near Ross Lake

Aubrey Cohen, The Bellingham Herald

Whatcom County, WA - 3/15/03 - Local officials are divided over a plan to bring new grizzly bears into southern British Columbia.

The B.C. government has proposed bringing up to five grizzly bears per year for five years into the Manning Park area, across the border from Ross Lake, as part of a recovery plan for bears in the North Cascades.

In reaction, state Rep. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, co-sponsored a House resolution opposing the "augmentation" of grizzlies into British Columbia.

"I'm fully in favor of protecting habitat that would attract animals back into the region, but when you introduce bears back into that ecosystem you run a very strong risk of human-bear conflict," he said.

Mitch Friedman, executive director of Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, also criticized the plan. But he said it did not go far enough.

"They're not contemplating a huge infusion of bears," Friedman said. "I kind of wish they were."

A state Department of Fish and Wildlife evaluation from 1986 to 1993 concluded there were probably 10-20 bears on the U.S. side of the North Cascades. Hunting and killing of bears out of fear has drastically reduced the number of bears in the region, according to a Canadian study. The study estimated there were more than 17 bears on the B.C. side of the border from 1993 to 1997.

U.S. and Canadian studies have found the North Cascades could support 450-700 grizzly bears.

Adding new bears could help keep the North Cascades population going until more can be done to stop the decline, Friedman said. He said he has been pushing for bear augmentation on this side of the border for more than a decade.

"Grizzlies are an incredibly slow reproducing species," he said. "They can't really be expected to pull out of this on their own."

The state House resolution died in committee, but a similar resolution is still alive in the state Senate.

On Feb. 25, the Whatcom County Council sent out a letter supporting augmentation to state Sen. Bob Oke, chairman of the Senate's Parks, Fish and Wildlife Committee, which is holding hearings on a bill opposing bringing bears in.

"We are very proud of the incredible natural heritage we have in Whatcom County and recognize that in order for some species to survive, such as grizzly bears which are presently in our county, it is necessary to enhance the populations of these species north of Whatcom County's border," the letter says.

County Council Chairman Dan McShane said he found out on Feb. 24 that Oke's committee was going to have a hearing on its anti-bear resolution the next day, and drafted a letter opposing the resolution. Council members Sharon Roy, Seth Fleetwood and Laurie Caskey-Schreiber signed on, giving the letter the majority it needed to go out with the council's name.

Council member Sam Crawford, who did not see the letter until last Monday, said he did not agree with the letter, and was unhappy he did not hear about it in advance.

On Tuesday, Crawford wrote his own letter to Oke saying the County Council had not studied or discussed the matter in public and had not formally taken a position.

"This is a serious matter, especially from my perspective as a regular recreational user of our county's wilderness areas along with my family," he wrote.


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