Alan Deyo doesn’t understand.
“Why do we need to spend money to bring grizzly bears here?” the Idaho logger asked Wednesday. “Our country is broke, worse than broke, and we’re wasting money on this?”
At the Konkolville Restaurant north of here, a couple dozen residents met with U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth, R-Idaho, for the first in a series of public meetings about bear recovery in the Inland Northwest. Hosted by the Idaho Fish and Game Department and a wildlife biologist with the Nez Perce Indian Tribe, the meeting offered residents a glimpse of three possible approaches to grizzly bear recovery efforts.
Scientist and wildlife biologists say the last of the great predators was exterminated in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana and Idaho by hunters, trappers and sheepherders of the 1930s. As land and game managers enter another round of debate over proposals to return grizzlies to central Idaho - at an estimated cost of up to $160,000 a year for several years - Deyo’s sentiments are being echoed by the region’s power brokers.
“The people I talked to say our forefathers did a great service in getting rid of the bear,” said Clearwater County Commissioner Jim Wilson. “I’m not sure I disagree.”
Chenoweth, who compared grizzly recovery to “introducing sharks at the beach,” said residents should demand proof that bears once existed here. In the meantime, she said, she’ll work to block funding for the program.
Currently the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and propose to move four to six bears a year for five years into the 5,500-square-mile region between the Salmon River and the north Fork of the Clearwater River. The bears would be designated an “experimental population” which would give wildlife managers latitude to handle bears that cause problems.
Herb Pollard, Regional Supervisor for Idaho Fish and Game, said no decisions have been made, and added that the “experimental” designation currently was only one of three options. The other two are to do nothing and wait for bears to migrate south from north Idaho and Montana or to relocate 10 bears a year under the full protection of the Endangered Species Act.
Chenoweth urged the group to keep local control over the project.
If the government wants to bring bears to Idaho, Commissioner Wilson prefers the natural migration option “because it is very unlikely to happen.”
“Otherwise you’re going to run into problems, and they might be .30-caliber problems,” Wilson said. “It would be shoot-and-scoot sort of management.”