Opinion: Should grizzly bears be re-introduced to western Colorado? | PostIndependent.com

Opinion: Should grizzly bears be re-introduced to western Colorado?

Ken Johnson
Free Press Opinion Columnist
Brown bear up close
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

Talk about a tourist attraction!

That proposal to re-introduce long-gone grizzlies back into the Colorado wild — what an inspiration that is!

Just think of it. First we get the moose introduced successfully to Grand Mesa, now this really keen idea comes along. After all, at one time we had grizzlies in western Colorado.

Back in June, an environmental group called The Center for Biological Diversity told the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to do just that to help recover this threatened species. Their complaint is that F&W is too fragmented in how it operates, currently focusing only on easy areas like Yellowstone, the Tetons and Alaska.

After all, these noble creatures at one time made their homes in Arizona, New Mexico, around the Grand Canyon, in the Sierra Nevada of California (the grizzly is on California’s state flag, by the way), parts of Utah and, yes, Colorado.

Just like moose, or the one-time endangered grey wolf, grizzlies could slowly regain some of their past habitat and become an asset.

Think about what a huge tourist boom would result if Aspen, Vail and Telluride had small enclaves of grizzly bears. Shoot, we wouldn’t need a national park if we could put a few grizzlies in Colorado National Monument, would we? At one time we had bison there, too.

What a photo op to be out hiking and suddenly see a mama grizzly with a couple of cute cubs. Talk about a great “selfie” moment. And for goodness sakes, Colorado has plenty of wilderness, national forests and conservation areas to support a few bears.

F&W concedes it needs to look at its 1993 protection plan again, since it’s out of date. It confirms that at least 50,000 grizzlies roamed the West in the early 1800s. People in those days systematically took over the territory and, one by one, got rid of most of them.

Now we have about 16,000 in British Columbia. Alaska is home to about 30,000. In the rest of the U.S., which was once one-half their habitat, there are only about 1,500 left, with 800 in Montana and 600 in the Yellowstone area.

Noah Greenwald is director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s endangered species program. He admitted there might be some opposition to the plan, but said that overall there seems to be lots more reverence surrounding the bear.

“They’re just such an iconic animal,” he said.

Unfortunately for Colorado’s habitat, the last confirmed sighting was in the San Juan Mountains out of Pagosa Springs on Sept. 23, 1979. A female grizzly tangled with a bow hunter, mauled him a bit, and died when he stabbed her with one of his arrows.

The best sighting recently was from Aspen in 2007, when a photo of a grizzly and two cubs was circulating; It was taken, so the story goes, by a woman working as a nanny for one of the many wealthy Aspenites. She reported she took a bus ride to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness stop to go on a short hike. When she saw the bears she snapped a photo, thinking “How cool is this!”

It dawned on her to get out of there pronto, given that the advice from all the grizzly experts is to “stay at least 100 yards from grizzly bears”.

By the way, the species name for grizzly bears is “Ursus arctos horribillis.” If you think having a few of these big critters around for tourist promotion (and helping an endangered species) would be cool, contact the Colorado Grizzly Coalition. It’s in Boulder.

At one time Hotchkiss thought grizzlies were pretty keen.

GJ Free Press columnist Ken Johnson is founder of the Grand Junction Free Press and former owner/publisher of The Daily Sentinel. He spends his time between the Grand Valley and California.

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