Choice of living with grizzlies and wolves makes Idaho a special place

Two, maybe three generations of Idahoans did not have to share their home with large carnivores.

Only a few sheep herders around Yellowstone National Park and backcountry visitors to the Selkirks and Cabinets had much chance to interact with grizzly bears and wolves. Even black bear and cougar numbers were low until the 1970s. So it’s no surprise that now that these often fierce neighbors are returning in real numbers there is conflict.

The pioneers killed off all but a remnant population of both animals as well as many of the game species. Hunters wanted the game species back and beginning at the end of the last century conservation brought them back in large numbers.

We could tolerate deer eating our gardens and an occasional moose walking into town. But bears and wolves are different. Idaho opened wolf season today, which in some circles is considered a conservation success, just like the recovery of elk and bighorn sheep populations.

Others see it as the beginning of the second slaughter, a rerun of the pioneer days. Time will show which side is right.

The grizzly issue is different. Grizzlies kill and eat people.

Toleration means completely changing how we live our lives. Garbage must be kept locked up. Food always put away. When camping don’t sleep in the same clothes you cooked in.Keep an eye on the children.

You can’t have bird feeders bears can raid, especially not with black sunflowers.

“Black sunflower seeds, its like bear crack,” said Idaho Department of Fish and Game biologist Wayne Wakkinen of Bonner’s Ferry. “Once you get bears on black sunflower seeds you got a problem.”

I suspect many of the people who are crying bloody murder over Idaho wolf hunting season would hate to see grizzly bears return to the Sawtooths or the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. Camping and hiking would never be the same.

I know many outfitters who dread the possibility.

Over the past 25 years Island Park and Teton Valley have watched grizzlies return to live with them. They had had to make accommodations whether they liked it or not. That’s the power of the Endangered Species Act.

But for the most part residents and visitors have cooperated and remarkably bears have adjusted as well. But having grizzly bears on Earth means we either have to give them their habitat without us or we have to learn to live with them.

It is a choice that making living in the Northern Rockies unique.