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Restoring Grizzly Bears to the North Cascades: Protecting Iconic Landscapes to Protect Iconic Species

Recently, Wildlands Network applauded Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s support to continue the environmental analysis for the relocation of grizzlies to the North Cascades. Zinke’s statement heralded the grizzlies’ restoration to the Evergreen state as the “American conservation ethic come to life.” The loss of grizzlies, he continued, would “rob the region of an icon.”

“Icon.”

A large brown bear stands by a river, looking at camera
Grizzy bear, Yellowstone National Park. Photo: Robert Long

That one word evoked a memory about a book I saw recently titled Theodore Roosevelt: Icon of the American Century. Theodore Roosevelt is considered an American icon for many reasons, not the least of which was his desire to protect in perpetuity America’s beloved species and the landscapes upon which those species depend. Roosevelt, an avid outdoorsmen, set the stage for the future of conservation in America, making it not only possible but also aspirational to safeguard our breathtakingly iconic landscapes and species, some of which are found nowhere else in the world, for future generations.

After becoming president in 1901, Roosevelt provided federal protection for almost 230 million acres of land. Using his presidential authority, he created 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 4 national game preserves, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments. He protected towering mountains, deep canyons, volcanic peaks, and sandstone cliffs. He protected cultural history, unique geology, and iconic biodiversity across the nation. Roosevelt also established the United States Forest Service and the 1906 American Antiquities Act, the law presidents now use to establish protections for federal lands as national monuments.

A grizzly bear walks across a meadow covered with flowers.
Photo: William C. Gladish

These iconic landscapes Roosevelt protected were designed in part to facilitate the continued existence of America’s iconic species—species like the grizzly bear, who invokes a sense of untamed wilderness as a powerful, majestic apex predator.

We must continue to not only protect and advocate for species in this region, but also for the protection of the land on which these species depend.

While Zinke’s sudden announcement in support of grizzly bear restoration can be counted as a conservation victory, we must make sure we also advocate for the protection of large landscapes, landscapes that will protect a multitude of species. Grizzly bears, like other large carnivores, require extensive home ranges and functional corridors to allow movement between areas to sustain populations. Male grizzly bears require 200 to 500 miles of habitat and are often solitary. Although grizzly territories will overlap, grizzly bears require large open expanses, typically in areas with low human impact, like the large protected landscapes of North Cascades National Park and the surrounding national forest. We must continue to not only protect and advocate for species in this region, but also for the protection of the land on which these species depend.

Protecting Landscapes in the Pacific

Wildlands Network’s new Pacific Wildway campaign seeks to continue building on the great landscapes of America by connecting our protected federal, state and private lands, all the way from British Columbia to Baja California. This connected landscape, already home to many of Roosevelt’s protected lands, will allow for the migration and movement of species and the conservation of the greatest amount of biodiversity.

Craggy hills line the horizon, shrouded in haze from wildfires.
Maple Pass Loop in the North Cascades. Photo: Jessica Walz Schafer

For example, when connected, the protected lands between Crater Lake and Yosemite national parks could soon function as a wildlife corridor for wolves, allowing them room to roam between these two core reserves of the Pacific. When these landscapes are further connected to the north with North Cascades National Park and British Columbia, we could one day see grizzlies migrating all the way down to a state whose flag carries the grizzly bear image—California.

Zinke’s use of the word “icon” reminds me to be mindful of the American conservation spirit and cognizant of the need to continue pursuing a future landscape increased in value for all species. The Pacific Wildway project is grand and invokes Roosevelt’s spirit to “delight in the hardy life of the open…,” becoming a nation that “treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.”

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