Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton has decided to scrap a Clinton administration plan to reintroduce grizzly bears into areas of Montana and Idaho. The decision marks an important victory for farmers, ranchers, and rural families concerned about the large predators being reintroduced so close to human settlements.
Some environmentalists have strongly supported reintroduction of the grizzlies as part of a bigger campaign to discourage farming, ranching, and other uses of wilderness areas and public lands. However, local officials and concerned citizens have expressed concern about the dangers posed to residents and livestock, the dubious ecological science behind reintroduction, and high costs.
Norton remains committed to expanding grizzly populations in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. However, she has given significant weight to local residents’ safety concerns about further enlargement of the grizzly’s range. Although grizzly bears typically eat plants and berries, they have been known to attack and kill unsuspecting humans.
“We are listening to the states,” said Interior spokesman Mark Pfeifle. “The previous administration didn’t always do an adequate job of that.”
An estimated 1,200 grizzly bears reside in the lower 48 states, most living in national parks and wilderness areas. The Fish and Wildlife Service has supported the reintroduction of grizzly bears to other areas. Stated Chris Servheen, the Service’s grizzly recovery coordinator, “They’re the quintessential wild animals. They’re a barometer of how we treat our environment.”
Although the Bush administration will spend over $300,000 on grizzly recovery efforts this year, it is directing the money to areas where grizzlies currently live. Observed Mark Snider, a spokesman for Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne, “The new administration is clearly changing the tone in Washington. They care about states’ rights and states’ input. We can tell the difference.”