A compromise proposal involving the timber industry and two major environmental groups offers the best hope for reintroducing grizzly bears to the Bitterroot Mountains.
The plan, aired last week, calls for local control of the program and reintroduction of the bears as an “experimental” population. That means the grizzlies wouldn’t have the full protection of the Endangered Species Act if they move outside their ecosystem.
Both points are critical for local acceptance of the bears, easily the most glamorous of all endangered species. Too often, uncompromising environmentalists have used an endangered species as a weapon to close forests to mining, grazing and logging.
Grizzly bears, a powerful symbol of the Old West, have a place in the Bitterroots - and not just at the top of the food chain. Said bear recovery expert Chris Servheen: “The fact that there are still places out there that such a magnificent, wild, large animal could live on its own is often astounding to people. Maybe the grizzly gives them some hope for the earth.”
The joint plan has die-hard critics on both sides, which makes it more appealing. Conservative firebrand U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth, R-Idaho, compared grizzly recovery to “introducing sharks at the beach.” Meanwhile, some environmental groups aren’t happy that Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Federation have signed off on the plan.
Actually, the two national conservation groups were wise in searching for common ground with industry representatives. In this era of belt tightening and Republican control, the grizzly transplant program would be dead on arrival without broad-based support.
This plan separates wildlife conservationists - those who truly have the bears’ best interest at heart - from the pack of professional litigants and appellants who use animals to achieve organizational agendas.
Predictably, federal agencies are squeamish about involving local citizens in endangered species management. The joint plan calls for a 13-member board, all but two appointed by the governors of Idaho and Montana, that would oversee the program. The board would have the authority to order problem bears removed or killed.
The experiment is worth the risk. Possibly, the cooperation between industry and conservationists will establish a model for 1990s environmentalism.
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board