Looking For Grizzlies

WASHINGTON - Tim Bertram has hiked for years through the hemlocks and pines of the dense Colville National Forest, always watching for one of the most majestic and fabled creatures still roaming the woods - the +grizzly+ bear.

He has never seen one.

Still, Bertram patiently oversees a program of limiting access to roads, restricting the timing of logging operations and maintaining healthy shrub stands in the hope that more +grizzlies+ will wander into the northeastern Washington state forest.

And there have been some confirmed sightings of +grizzlies+ in the Colville in recent years.

''Knowing that they can be here is very important to me,'' said Bertram, a supervisory wildlife biologist with the Forest Service. ''I have a 1-year-old daughter - I want her to have that opportunity to see a bear when she gets older.''

Twenty-five years after the +grizzly+ was listed as a threatened species in the lower 48 states, conservationists say efforts such as the one on the Colville are paying off.

Closed roads and reduced logging on public lands have sharply increased the number of areas where +grizzly+ bears feel comfortable roaming and living.

While no one kept good numbers, biologists say there were as few as 600 bears in the lower 48 states when the +grizzly+ was listed in 1975. Today there are 1,200, though they can be found in just four states - Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Washington.

But conservationists say Friday's anniversary of the listing will be no cause for celebration. In 1800, an estimated 50,000 +grizzlies+ roamed west of the Mississippi, from Canada to Mexico, though the bears avoided the desert.

Decades of hunting, trapping and development drove the numbers downward. Bears are one of the slowest reproducing animals in the continent, and biologists don't foresee their numbers reaching 2,000 for decades to come.

''If you were God creating a mammal that would be tough to recover, the +grizzly+ bear is it,'' said Louisa Willcox, project coordinator of the Sierra Club's +grizzly+ bear ecosystem project.

Sierra officials said they will celebrate the anniversary ''with caution'' because logging, mining, off-road vehicles and hunting remain a threat to the bears. Nearly a dozen +grizzlies+ have been accidentally killed by black bear hunters in Montana alone since 1994, Sierra Club members say.

Still, wildlife officials have tackled many of the problems that were causing bears to die.

Garbage at places such as Yellowstone and Glacier national parks is being stored securely so that bears are having less contact with humans and therefore are less likely to be killed.

Campers are being instructed on keeping food away from the bears. Law enforcement has cracked down on hunters who illegally shoot +grizzlies+.

''All those things have been reduced - they haven't been eliminated by any means, '' said Chris Servheen, +grizzly+ bear recovery coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

But +grizzlies+ face a new threat biologists didn't envision 25 yeas ago.

So-called ''modem cowboys'' who live in the country and work from their home computers have accelerated growth and sprawl in places such as Bozeman, Mont., Cody, Wyo., and Driggs, Idaho.

The growth means that +grizzlies+ are increasingly encountering humans on private lands.

''Bears show up where bears have been for thousands of years,'' Servheen said. ''They (homeowners) get excited and say, 'A bear is on my property, what am I supposed to do?' Our challenge is to educate these people. It is possible to live with bears and minimize conflict with bears if you do some things.''

Servheen said landowners need the same lessons that Yellowstone and Glacier campers have been learning: Garbage must be properly stored, food should not be left out and the presence of a bear does not mean the bear has to be killed.

Wildlife officials have been distributing +grizzly+ education pamphlets to real estate agents in fast-growing areas, hoping to reach prospective homeowners and prevent human-bear conflicts.

+Grizzly+ advocates are also trying to push out the boundaries of the +grizzly+ recovery zones and have been pushing for the reintroduction of +grizzlies+ into the Bitterroot Mountains of Idaho along the Montana border.

But ranchers and property owners who have seen wolves reintroduced in Idaho in recent years have worries about bringing bears to the area.

''You've got an animal that a lot of people tell us that they don't want back,'' said Lindsay Nothern, press secretary for Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho. ''Wolves don't eat people, +grizzlies+ eat people.''

Crapo and other Idaho lawmakers have inserted language into an Interior Department spending bill that would prohibit the government from reintroducing the +grizzlies+ in Idaho until a scientific review by a citizens management committee.

Nothern said Jamie Rappaport Clark, the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, told Crapo last month that no bears would be brought into the state next year.


On the Net: Federal agencies +grizzly+ site:


Sierra Club +Grizzly+ Bear Ecosystems Project:


Concerned About +Grizzlies+:



Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment