A brown bear fishing on the Alaska Peninsula
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A brown bear fishing on the Alaska Peninsula
Credit: Courtesy of Brenda Phillips

The ‘ghost bears’ of Washington state

I asked him if I could go out into the field with him. Two weeks later, the bear biologist calls me up, tells me it’s time – let’s go see a bear.

He picked me up, but instead of turning left to go into the forest, he takes a right towards town. We weren’t going to the woods, we were going to his research site – the city dump.


Chris Morgan building a fire while out recording 'The Wild' on location.
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Chris Morgan building a fire while out recording 'The Wild' on location.
Credit: Courtesy of Mariah Powell


That night, over 30 years ago, I knew what my life would be. I told myself, “I’m going to study bears.”

And not just any bears, that night eventually led me to search out a special group: the ghost bears of the North Cascades in Washington state.

In 1967, a man left his cabin, hiked deep into the mountains and shot a grizzly. It was the last legal kill here, and as it turns out, one of the last remaining brown bears.

There used to be hundreds in the North Cascades, but European settlers hunted them almost to extinction. It’s an area about 10,000 square miles, but there are fewer than 20 grizzlies – probably less, maybe just one or two. We don’t know for sure. That’s why people call them ghost bears.

Grizzly bears have been on the endangered species list since 1975. They’ve made a pretty good return in around Yellowstone, but in the Cascades it hasn’t been the same story. They have been hammered so hard historically they haven’t bounced back.

Chris Morgan's hand on the paw of a bear he was helping to process during research on this species near Churchill, Canada.
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Chris Morgan's hand on the paw of a bear he was helping to process during research on this species near Churchill, Canada.
Credit: Courtesy of Dean Cannon


I learned early on that grizzlies in the Cascades are up against two things. It’s not biology and ecology, but politics and perceptions.

I think the first thing I need to do to save grizzlies is to share what I know about them, make them more familiar and change the perception.

The politics portion is another animal.

On this episode of The Wild, Chris Morgan discusses the controversies, progress and setbacks around reintroducing grizzlies to the North Cascades.


Past episodes of The Wild:

The Wild is a production of KUOW in Seattle in partnership with Chris Morgan Wildlife. It is produced by Matt Martin and edited by Jim Gates. Fact checking by Apryle Craig. Our theme music is by Michael Parker. Produced for the web by Kara McDermott.

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