Senator: Keep grizzlies in Canada - Plan to reintroduce bears to Cascades worries legislators

Sharon Michael, The Bellingham Herald

OLYMPIA, WA - 3/28/03 - Canadian grizzly bears are not welcome in Washington state, says state Sen. Bob Morton, R-Orient.

Morton wants state legislators to make a formal request to British Columbia's legislature, premier and minister of land, water and air protections not to release grizzlies too close to the U.S.-Canada border.

The B.C. government is working on plans to reintroduce grizzlies, which are listed as threatened in the United States and Canada, into the North Cascades region of the province.

"The food supply is not there, and the danger is too great," said Morton, chairman of the Senate Natural Resources, Energy & Water Committee.

Morton said he is worried about grizzly bears killing livestock and decimating orchards and attacking people who cross their paths.

Plant eaters

But Washington State University Professor Charles Robbins, who Morton called one of the three top grizzly bear experts in the country, said 98 percent of a grizzlies' food supply is from plants and people are more likely to be killed by lightning or a falling tree than by a grizzly bear.

Robbins, along with several Whatcom County residents, testified Thursday before the House Fisheries, Ecology & Parks Committee.

Bad news bears

"Grizzly bears have a reputation that's ill deserved," said Chris Morgan, director of Insight Wildlife Management Inc. in Bellingham.

Morgan said his goal is to get accurate information about grizzlies to the public.

Whatcom County Council member Sharon Roy told committee members about her experience living among grizzlies at the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary in Southwest Alaska.

With the exception of one female who liked to sit near visitors, the bears avoided contact with people.

"They are predictable," she said. "In 25 years they've never had to shoot a bear at McNeil River."

British Columbia is planning a pilot project to introduce individual grizzlies from neighboring regions of the province into the North Cascades Region as part of a recovery plan.

Morton fears the bears may migrate south, crossing the border into Washington. Orient is in Northeast Washington, near the border.

Wildlife experts say relocated grizzlies are more likely to head back in the direction from whence they came.

"They are not wishing to make Washington state residents out of these bears," said Steve Pozzanghera, deputy director of the state Department of Fish & Wildlife. "This is an expensive effort for the province."

Pozzanghera said B.C. officials plan to release bears in locations that would limit their ranges to the Canadian side of the border.

Drawing the line

The Legislature has directed the state Department of Fish & Wildlife to protect grizzly bears and to develop programs to promote natural population regeneration, but it is illegal to introduce grizzlies into Washington.

"How do you keep Canadian bears in Canada, eh?" inquired Rep. Al O'Brien, D-Mount Lake Terrace.

"They have to go through customs to get here," responded Pozzanghera.

Morton wants the B.C. government to obtain DNA samples from each released bear, implant them with a microchip containing specific information about that individual bear and share that information with state officials.

Reach Sharon Michael at or call 756-2805.


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