Letters From the West

Idaho F&G Commission longs for delisting without griz in wilderness

A grizzly bear foraging (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)

A grizzly bear foraging (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission issued a policy statement saying it wants grizzly bears delisted in Idaho.

But the body that oversees management of all wildlife in the state said it does not support protecting grizzly bears in the Selway-Bitteroot area that has been identified as grizzly bear habitat. The commission has long opposed the reintroduction of grizzly bears into the area, in part because of the negative public reaction to the reintroduction of wolves in 1995.

For this reason I think it’s clear that reintroduction of grizzlies in this area is dead for a long time. However, grizzly populations continue to grow throughout the Northern Rockies and the Yellowstone area for now.

But for the long term, grizzlies are going to need every square mile of habitat where they can live in mostly peace with their neighbors. I doubt that federal biologists or the American public will allow the largest tract of roadless country in the lower 48 states be declared off limits to grizzly bears.

The bears themselves may soon decide the matter by moving into the area themselves. The Fish and Game Commission may not like it but it will be required to protect bears in the newly occupied habitat whether it wants to or not.

Outfitters, who successfully convinced the Idaho Legislature to declare the Frank Church-River of No Return a disaster area because of the backlog of trail maintenance due to wildfires, will consider the bears inconvenient. But their brethren in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and other areas with grizzlies have adapted.

This has added to the experience of their guests who understand fully that they are camping in a truly wild area where nature is in control. It’s the same force that has knocked down thousands of trees in the forest on trails at a time when government budgets are dropping.

I don’t mean to pick on the outfitters. I know many people who consider themselves environmentalists who don’t want to see grizzlies back in central Idaho.

But Idaho happens to be one of the few places on earth where grizzly bears can live. They are not easy neighbors but neither are elephants, tigers and other wild animals we are forcing into increasingly smaller places to make room for more of us.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has shown it can protect and manage grizzly bears so their populations grow in the Island Park Caldera region next to Yellowstone, the Tetons, the Selkirks and Cabinet mountains up north. A strong case can be made for delisting in the Yellowstone area.

But until the commission that is supposed to be the state’s top advocate for wildlife says its ready to make room for grizzlies in the wild heart of Idaho I doubt delisting will come anywhere else.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West