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The National Park Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service, in conjunction with several other agencies, are engaged in a plan to bring the grizzly back to the Cascades, a former habitat for these majestic creatures. Questions have arisen about the potential environmental impact of reintroducing the animals to the area.
Endangered Species: The Grizzly
The grizzly bear was listed as an endangered species for four decades, after the passage of the Endangered Species Act. Since 1980, Washington State had also listed the grizzly as an endangered species. With almost 9,800 square miles available as a possible habitat, the North Cascades is one of six different areas listed in a recovery plan for the animal. Final decisions have yet to be made about the grizzly recovery plan, but the process of holding initial meetings has begun. The concept involves restoring the ecosystem in the area by returning the grizzly to its former habitat, and the agencies involved predict there will be little to no environmental impact from the program
Staying Safe in a Grizzly Habitat
Once the grizzlies are installed in the area, it will be necessary for visitors to that area to be aware that the animals are there and to take the same precautions they would to avoid other bears, such as keeping a clean camp and always staying in groups. Grizzlies tend to live in the most remote areas, and the risk of coming into contact should be minimal. They are known to roam further in the search for food after coming out of hibernation, and in the fall when they must consume huge amounts of food.
Grizzlies are very large animals, with female bears weighing in at an average of about 350 lbs., and males at 450 lbs., although they can grow larger as well. They eat a varied diet, including fish, vegetation, berries, insects, rodents and carrion (the flesh of dead animals), and it is expected that their presence would have little to no effect on other wildlife in the area. Concerns about grizzly bears attacking livestock would be resolved by removing a bear from the area, according to a biologist working on the project.
For the grizzly bear to be off the endangered species list, there would need to be about 300 of the creatures living in the North Cascades. Currently there are estimated to be only 20 grizzlies left living south of the Canadian border in the area.
The bears are usually peaceful and tend to run from danger rather than engage. As with other bears, they are fiercely protective of their cubs, and will become violent and attack any creature that is considered to be a threat, including humans. Those hiking in the area should always be on alert when a cub is sighted, and should leave the area immediately. Take “bear spray” if you plan to hike in any bear habitat, always talk loudly or wear a bell so that you are constantly producing warning sounds to alert any bears in the area of your presence, as they will generally leave.
The grizzly population was decimated over the years by landowners who worried about losing livestock. In recent years grizzlies have been hunted, shot and killed for illegal export to the Asian medical market where the gall bladder of a grizzly is believed to be beneficial for fever, liver diseases, convulsions and other conditions. A grizzly bear gall bladder can sell for as much as $10,000 to that market, a big financial incentive for poachers.