Eli Francovich: Grizzly bear near Silverwood inspired fear, but wild animals ought to be afraid

August 18, 2018

The young grizzly bear raiding chicken coops and chasing sheep in North Idaho this week inspired plenty of awe for those watching the bear’s antics.

And fear. Especially for those who were lucky/unlucky enough to have the 176-pound animal wander through their yards.

“It’s kind of scary going out there because we still have the mini donkeys and ponies to feed,” Crystal Kearl told me Wednesday. “My daughter really loves her chickens and she’s kind of terrified of losing them.”

The bear wandered through Kearl’s yard, played with her sprinkler and tried to get into her chicken coop.

That fear, in the moment, makes perfect sense. An apex predator tromping through your manicured yard and investigating your stuff is a fearsome sight. But with any amount of reflection. it becomes obvious that grizzlies are the ones that should be afraid.

Very afraid.

Research published less than a month ago shows just how dangerous humans can be to the mighty-seeming grizzly. Titled “Resource roads and grizzly bears in British Columbia and Alberta, Canada,” the report examined research looking at the impact of roads on grizzlies. The report cited previous studies finding that humans cause between 77 and 90 percent of all grizzly bear mortalities in North America and the majority of those deaths occur near a road.

The bears aren’t being killed by vehicles. They’re dying at the hands of hunters who mistake them for black bears or shoot them in self-defense, whether justified or not.

The report states: “As many female grizzlies were killed in the autumn by ungulate hunters due to human-bear conflict as were in the spring by grizzly bear hunters. Keeping roads away from important energy-rich food sources not only enables females to focus on getting fat for hibernation but also keeps ungulate hunters away, who sometimes kill these bears due to perceived self-defense.”

There are plenty of local examples, including one from 2015 when a hunter in Wallace shot and killed a grizzly bear that had been collared and relocated to Montana. Grizzlies in this region are classified as a threatened species and are protected from hunting.

Secondary impacts of the roads include habitat loss and displacement of the bears.

While the report is focused on Canadian grizzlies, it’s relevant to local discussions. Wildlife officials said Thursday that the bear wandering near Silverwood will be released in the Cabinet Mountains, from where it’s believed to have come.

Less than a month ago, the federal government approved the first phase of a silver and copper mine beneath the 94,272-acre Cabinet Mountain Wilderness.

The Rock Creek mine would be built by Idaho-based Hecla Mining Co. Environmentalists and others have raised concerns about the negative impact the mine could have on grizzlies.

Even closer to Spokane, the Selkirk Grizzly Bear Recovery zone continues to feel the pressures of an ever-expanding human population on both sides of the crest. It’s a similar story for most wild animals.

So the next time you encounter a wild animal, bear or otherwise, feel awe. Even feel fear at the pure physicality of these creatures. But don’t forget who’s really in danger.

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