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Should grizzlies be brought back to the North Cascades? 'Wild' listeners weigh in

caption: 'The Wild' producer Matt Martin and host Chris Morgan on a reporting trip to the North Cascades.
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'The Wild' producer Matt Martin and host Chris Morgan on a reporting trip to the North Cascades.
Courtesy of Mariah Powell

We tried a little experiment with our Instagram followers for The Wild (@thewildpod). Before our episode on bears in the North Cascades we polled them to ask: Should grizzlies be reintroduced to this area?

Over 150 people responded and the results were largely positive. (Responsibility note: This was a self-selecting, non-scientific survey). “Grizzlies help keep forests healthy,” wrote Kelsey Riley of Bellingham in a private message to us. “I also believe that their presence in the North Cascades could help educate people about this species and how vital they are to this area’s ecosystem.”

Margaret, from Dayton, Oregon, is a forester with a degree in natural resources and a focus in wildlife ecology. She described herself as a “positive maybe.”

“I would love to see native wildlife returned to the area where they historically were because I believe nature functions better than what we can understand,” she wrote in a message to us. “But there's now a major human element that is now a part of the landscape, for better or worse, and there are social implications for reintroduction.”

She said the same politics that have been in play with cougars and wolves are going to be an issue with grizzly bears: ranchers concerned about their herds, visitors worried about attacks and people in general needing education about living around big predatory animals.

That’s Caitie Van Sloun’s experience. She lives in a cabin in Big Sky, Montana.

“The thought of running into a grizzly is one I absolutely dread. I actually have a neighbor that had a grizzly try to get into their home just a week ago!” she wrote us.

She was unsure about whether reintroduction was a good idea, but was open to hearing more about it.

“I would also love to hear how to continue to live with the grizzlies in a respectful way, from both sides!” she wrote.

Tim Finn admits that where he lives in Strong, Maine, grizzlies aren’t something he has to worry about in regards to his livelihood or when he’s out hiking.

“I do believe though that it is always better to work with the natural world than try to dominate it. Countless times it has been found things that were considered a hindrance to people actually served a useful purpose,” he wrote us. “That’s why I think it would benefit the Cascades to reintroduce grizzlies to the area.”

A few people sent us a message saying they were on the fence, mostly because they didn’t know much about the issue as it pertains to the North Cascades. In our business, that’s a good sign that we’ve found the right topic to talk about!

Mike DiTore of Lansdale, Penn. described himself as a hunter for more than a dozen years. He said there’s nothing like being out in nature and seeing animals in the wild. But he said he fell in the middle of the poll because he didn’t know enough about the pros and cons of reintroduction.

“I think a lot of people are so fast to say ‘YES!’ when they see polls like this, but don’t realize the kind of brutality that these bears bring to the woods when they are hunting for meat. They just think that by reintroducing them they’ll live without there being a negative effect to any other species,” he said.

Kellie from Arlington, Virg., while stating that she is a strong proponent for conservation efforts, echoed similar hesitations.

“My only reasoning for not answering fully yes to grizzlies being reintroduced is based off how this will/would happen,” she wrote us. “What sanctions will be put in place to ensure they have a fair shot at survival?”

Beyond just managing logistics, it’ll take a proverbial village to make reintroduction happen.

“I think that if you can get the community on board, then you have a good shot at success,” said Katie Acosta of Miami, Florida. “They can help with conservation efforts, especially if they feel like their opinion is valued and like they are part of something.”

All the way from Riga, Latvia Christopher said humans have a responsibility toward the bears.

“It was us as a species that over hunted them and drove them to the point that the grizzlies in the region are in now. I think that gives us a sort of duty to at least try and help them. I’m no zoologist, naturalist or conservationist, but I don’t see huge problems with reintroducing grizzlies to a region that is very wild and not very inhabited by humans, as long as it’s done right,” he wrote.

Correction 6/1/19 8:37 a.m.: A previous version of this story had a lead photo the included a bear paw labeled as that of a grizzly bear, when in fact it was of a polar bear. To avoid confusion, the photo has been replaced.

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