Fear of Grizzles is greatly overblown, fueled by pioneer tales, media sensationalism and some highly publicized past maulings. Human encounters with grizzlies are rare; and deaths from grizzly bears are extremely rare.
We are very supportive of the plan to reintroduce Grizzles to the Cascades. The plan is to bring in five bears per year for five years and then observe for 100 years.
Craig Romano – Outdoors NW – Adventure, Travel, Recreation – December 2019
“I’ll never forget my first grizzly bear encounter. It happened in August of 1992 while I was hiking with my two brothers to Swiftcurrent Pass in Montana’s Glacier National Park.
We stopped at an open ridge to look for warblers, but what wobbled out of the forest instead was a cute little grizzly cub. After a few seconds of admiration, reality set in. Where there’s a cub, a sow is not far behind. Sure enough, Mama came out of the forest. And the cub was now wobbling toward us!
As I stood there on that open ridge watching that little cub hobble toward me, my heart rate, without any physical prompting, began palpitating at an intensity I’ve only known after engaging in running competitions.
I was fascinated by this primeval instinct for fight or flight. But there’s no way I’d ever fight a grizzly. And flight? Back then I could run a 5:30 mile, but the slowest grizzly could still easily beat me.
I wasn’t going anywhere. Time froze. Mom snorted for her cub to turn back. Thanks to divine providence or cub obedience, the little guy returned to Mama and they hastily retreated into the forest.
It was one of my most intense backcountry moments, ever. I’ve had several other grizzly encounters since that hike, including a similar cub and Mama situation while I was trail running with my wife in Alberta’s Jasper National Park. I’ve observed grizzlies searching for salmon in a river on the Alaska-British Columbia border. And watched from a canoe in Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park, a grizzly sow tear up a meadow looking for grubs.
All of these experiences are among my most precious wildlife sightings. And none of these sightings have shied me away from hiking and recreating in grizzly country.
When you hike in grizzly country, your senses are heightened. You’re aware of every scent, sound, and sight around you. You’re completely within the moment and feel completely alive. I don’t need to see a grizzly to experience such intensity and excitement.
When I hike in Northeastern Washington’s Salmo-Priest Wilderness, it just feels wilder than other parts of the state because of its grizzlies. The Selkirk Mountains of Washington’s northeastern corner harbors one of the last viable grizzly bear populations in the Lower 48. I have never seen one here. But I’ve seen their signs.
A few years ago, just before I spent a couple of days traversing Sullivan Ridge and scrambling up Gypsy Peak, Eastern Washington’s highest summit, U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists had just tagged a 430-pound grizzly in Idaho’s Priest River Valley below.
Looking over the rounded ridges and craggy peaks bearing fire scars from decades ago and now draped in huckleberries and mountain ash, I could sense the presence of grizzlies.
Just knowing they’re out there gave me an incredible feeling of wildness. A feeling that there are parts of this vast continent still resembling what it was like before Lewis and Clark, David Thompson, and convoys of wagon trains traversed it.
These are hallowed grounds — a landscape retaining one of its wildest and rarest components — a landscape that has dodged the crowded and hurried modern era. And it’s a threatened landscape, a shrinking part of our natural heritage.
North Cascades Grizzlies
The North Cascades is one of only five areas in the Continental U.S. that still supports grizzly bears — but just a handful remain. The National Park Service is assessing impacts and a range of alternatives to determine whether grizzly bears should be restored here.
The U.S. Forest Service and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are cooperating agencies in this study. Washington-based Conservation Northwest has taken the lead in supporting restoring grizzlies to the North Cascades and they continue to support outreach programs educating the public about these beautiful creatures.
With the scientific name Ursus horribilis, some folks are indeed horrified of these majestic bears. I know that many of my fellow hikers have no desire to hike in grizzly country — even less so to encourage these bears to return to some of their favorite hiking grounds.
Each year far more people are mauled by black bears than grizzlies. More people die from snake bites and insect bites each year than from grizzlies over many years.
Grizzly bears have been greatly maligned and misunderstood over the ages. They generally shy from human activity. They are an important component to a healthy North Cascades ecosystem. And whether they continue to be, hinges on our acceptance of them.
Sharing the Land
With education, proper preparation and bear-aware hiking and camping techniques, you should have a safe and satisfying backcountry experience.
The most dangerous thing about your trip to grizzly country is driving to the trailhead. More than 40,000 people died last year in automobile accidents in America, yet we don’t shun the highways.
Human deaths attributed to grizzly bears last year in America? Three, and that was an anomaly as there were none in previous years. Grizzlies killed by humans last year? More than 30 alone just in Wyoming.
It would appear that grizzlies should be more afraid of us, than we of them. Grizzlies are an important component to a healthy North Cascades ecosystem. I support their reintroduction.
Craig Romano is an award-winning author of more than 20 guidebooks including 100 Classic Hikes Washington (Mountaineers Books)
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