Our Northwest

Washingtonians say: return grizzlies to North Cascades

Wednesday, June 8, 2016by  Jon Osterberg

Grizzly bearOf all the danger you could face in the mountain wilderness, I'll wager most people fear a bear attack.

Especially grizzly bears, in light of the Oscar-winning "The Revenant."

Yet in a statewide poll taken last month, 80% of Washingtonians said they favor reintroducing grizzlies to the North Cascades, as reported by The Bellingham Herald.

Support runs even higher – 86% – among voters who live around the Cascades in Chelan, Kittitas, Okanogan, Skagit, Snohomish, and Whatcom counties.

We had a near-miss with rampaging grizzlies while on a family horse-pack trip into Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness in August 1992. “The Bob,” which borders Glacier National Park, has the highest population density of grizzlies found anywhere in the United States outside of Alaska.

Grizzlies are majestic creatures that I admire from a distance, but I'd want no part of a close encounter. Still, we almost had one.

Group riding horses on family horse-pack tripFive of us packed in from Benchmark trailhead during a time when much of The Bob was closed because of grizzly activity. That first day we rode up and over Headquarters Pass on the Rocky Mountain Front for 17 miles to a campsite near Gates Park. Not until we rode onward the next day did we learn the Gates Park Ranger Station building literally had been ravaged by a cranky grizzly the day before.

We all had strapped bear bells above our horses’ hooves, the theory being that as the bells ring with each step, they warn bears of our approach. I guess the last thing you want besides meeting a bear is to startle one.

Scenic view and group riding horses For the rest of our five-day adventure, we augmented those bells with loud conversation and occasional shouts of “Hey bear, go away!” to signal our approach.

For the record, fatal bear attacks are rare. The last death I could find in Washington took place near Glenwood, Klickitat County, in 1974.

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