The ideology of Manifest Destiny - that we need to destroy nature to succeed culturally and economically -- has run its course. Increasingly, the public believes that we have the space and heart to save the last of wild nature, species like buffalo and bears, as well as ourselves, and that we need not live extravagantly to be happy. That wild nature can contribute to our long term well-being, rather than subtracting from it.
Further, better management of grizzlies is not rocket science, and is not out of our reach. Practical, effective solutions to conflicts abound, and we can learn from them. There is enough habitat to support more bears in more places. We can imagine, for instance, grizzlies roaming again in the North Cascades, Southwest and Central Idaho. Finally, we can and must improve the process of decision-making, in the interest of the broader public, not a minority of special interests. Here is more on what is needed and how we get there.
We Need More Bears
There is ample opportunity to expand where grizzly bears can live, both within currently occupied ecosystems as well as in places where grizzly bears have been extirpated. Allowing grizzly bears to continue to occupy areas that connect the Greater Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide ecosystems is a first step. It is also possible to increase the smaller Cabinet‐Yaak population by perhaps an additional 100 bears, and the Selkirk population by an additional 80 to 90 bears, including the portion of the recovery zone in Canada. Grizzly bears could be restored to other areas as well, including Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, California, Nevada, Oregon and southern Washington, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Expanding Bear Horizons
Recovery of grizzly bears means erring on the side of caution if we want to ensure long term viability and protection against future catastrophes and other environmental changes. This is consistent with the requirements of the Endangered Species Act. Models that estimate the viability of populations and risks of extinction can produce quite different results, but all of them rely on information in the Ecological Background (link). Which is why it is worth understanding some of this occasionally esoteric background. Despite on-going debate and varied outputs from models, there is perhaps surprising consensus among scientists that a population of 2500-5000 bears is needed to ensure long term persistence...These goals can be achieved, but not with the current approach. Ultimately the grizzly bear’s future is about the values we hold and about choices we make today.
For grizzly bears and their ecosystems to flourish and for the broader public trust to be served, the current process by which management decisions are made must be reformed. Yes, there are many ways to improve decision-making by management agencies, but they all involve dealing with the root issue of power. As long as the playing field is tilted, as now, towards a powerful privileged few, little will change. Some steps that merit consideration include: releasing all grizzly bear data to the public, improving the science process, upgrading coverage in the media so the public can understand its choices, and improving the decisionmaking process itself.