On the heels of the painfully misguided efforts to bring gray wolves back to Washington state, a federal plan to add grizzly bears to the mix seems, well, bizarre.
Wolves were never transplanted into Washington state. They followed the food from British Columbia and Idaho. The first Washington wolfpack was fully documented in 2008.
Since then, ranchers — primarily those in northeastern Washington — have had to cope with repeated attacks on their cattle and sheep. Now, 19 of the 23 wolfpacks in the state are in northeastern Washington, where ranching is a major activity.
Some ranchers have tried to work with state wildlife managers to find non-lethal ways to keep the wolves away from their livestock. Others see it as futile because the wolves still eat what they want. Even when wolves don’t kill their livestock, they traumatize the cattle and sheep, cutting into their weight gain.
To make a bad situation worse, some deeply troubled people — presumably from the pro-wolf camp — have been shooting cattle. Ranchers have offered $15,000 for information on the shootings. They don’t know how many calves and cows have been shot, only that they don’t return at round-up.
State wildlife managers have tried to mediate the wolf issue by bringing in a high-paid consultant and by controlling information related to wolves.
Into this mess rides the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which plan to reintroduce grizzly bears in the North Cascade Range. They say the area can support upwards of 200 bears.
This idea has the potential to make the fumbled wolf management problem in the state look good. Unlike wolves, which usually try to avoid humans, bears have no fear of them. And they have a taste for beef, fruit and mutton. Unlike wolves, which rarely attack humans, grizzlies have no qualms about killing people.
The thing wildlife managers seem to leave out of their narratives is that grizzly bears, like other animals, follow the food. If the food is plentiful in the back country, they’ll stay there. If food is more plentiful in the hundreds of acres of fruit orchards, herds of cattle, game animals or in town, they will go there.
That’s no secret. Anyone who have ever been in bear country knows a hungry grizzly must be avoided at all costs.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who oversees both the Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service, gave his blessing to the plan to reintroduce grizzlies in the North Cascades. We urge him to reconsider. Such plans would only multiply the region’s predator problems for ranchers and everyone else.
The last thing Washington state needs is another apex predator taking over the countryside.