Comment: North Cascades need balance grizzlies will bring

A plan to reintroduce the omnivore will restore the ecosystem and strengthen an endangered species.

By Chris Servheen / For The Herald

Federal agencies have just released the Final Environmental Impact Statement intended to guide grizzly bear restoration in the North Cascades ecosystem, a milestone in a recovery program process that I led for 35 years. I’d like to provide some perspective.

Over the decades there are a couple questions that I’ve heard repeatedly. Why do we need grizzly bears? What do they contribute to the ecosystem? But to answer those questions we need to step back and try to see the big picture.

Grizzly bears are a native species in the North Cascades. They were once part of an interconnected population of around 50,000 bears living throughout the western U.S. They were part of North Cascades ecosystem for thousands of years, coexisting with Indigenous people until European settlers purposefully eliminated them over a mere 100 years.

They were part of a fully functioning ecosystem providing nutrient cycling and seed dispersal. Their presence maintained natural distributions of other species like black bears that choose to avoid them. When we have healthy grizzly populations on the landscape, we also have adequate habitat for all the other plants and animals that live there.

In short, they enrich natural systems and contribute to the area’s biodiversity. Grizzly bears are an important piece of our Western Washington regional ecological fabric. Their restoration will restore the health and vitality of the North Cascades ecosystem.

It is important to recognize that wild terrestrial and marine mammals now make up only 4 percent of the biomass of the mammals on earth. The other 96 percent is humans and our livestock. This fact shows how much we have altered natural ecosystems and how little of the planet’s resources and space we’ve allowed for wild animals.

A reasonable person might conclude that whenever we have a chance to help native mammals as we do with restoring grizzly bears to the North Cascades, we should embrace the opportunity. Whenever we have a chance to balance the wild/livestock ledger, we should embrace it, no matter how seemingly insignificant it is.

Whenever we have a chance to right a wrong and restore wild ecosystems where we still have the space, we should do it. That’s why we have crafted, maintained and supported the recovery of our endangered species. Their restoration allows us to right our wrongs and balance the needs of wildlife with the needs is people. We can live with grizzly bears in the North Cascades just like we live with them in other areas of the U.S.

Can we find some place in our hearts to allow our native species like grizzlies again live in the few places they can still survive?

We only have a few places left where we can still recover an animal like the grizzly bear, and the North Cascades is one of those places. Restoring grizzlies is applied conservation toward a healthier planet. Grizzly restoration in the North Cascades would demonstrate our careful stewardship of nature and the wild ecosystems grizzlies need to survive.

Join me in doing the right thing and support the restoration of this native animal to our North Cascades.

Chris Servheen is a professional wildlife biologist who served for 35 years as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s national grizzly bear recovery coordinator. He is co-chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s North American Bear Expert Team and vice president of the Montana Wildlife Federation. He is a lifelong hunter and angler.

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