Project to re-establish grizzlies in the Okanagan will take time | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Project to re-establish grizzlies in the Okanagan will take time

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After years of effort, organizations on both sides of the border are working to bring grizzly bears back to an ecosystem that includes the Okanagan.

The Okanagan Nation Alliance, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and other governments and organizations are working together to bring grizzly bears back to the North Cascades.

The Greater North Cascades Ecosystem runs from the Fraser River in B.C. south to Stevens Pass in Washington, according to the North Cascades Institute.

This repopulation project has been in the works for years but it was officially announced in April.

Andrew Lavalle from U.S. Fish and Wildlife said it will take some time to iron out the details.

“We don't yet have a date or timeline for when the actual movement of bears or restoration will begin to the North Cascade ecosystem,” Lavalle said. “We have to sort of figure out the nuts and bolts of just how exactly this will be implemented.”

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He said one of the first steps is an outreach and education campaign to teach people how to coexist with grizzly bears.

“There'll be a curve here where folks have to learn to live with grizzly bears on the landscape once again,” he said. “That means things like food storage, preventing conflicts, not traveling solo when possible, carrying bear spray, all of these things.”

Lavalle said grizzly bears are a keystone species so they are important to the biology of the ecosystem, but they also have cultural significance to First Nations across the Pacific Northwest.

“You'll hear them referred to as keystone species, meaning they play sort of an outsized role. They're important dispersers of seeds, notorious diggers, pruning soil and keeping other populations of wildlife in balance. So there's biological reasons. And then also culturally it's important to some tribes and First Nations in the Pacific Northwest,” he said.

READ MORE: Okanagan First Nations team up with American agencies to restore grizzly bear population

While it is not yet clear exactly when and how the bears will come back to the Okanagan, Lavalle said the bears could come from Montana, Yellowstone National Park or elsewhere in the B.C. Interior.

Lavalle said this project could be an example of how a transboundary approach to climate initiatives is the best way to help at-risk species, since nature doesn’t recognize the divide between countries.

“The North Cascade doesn't stop in a vaguely straight line. It is transboundary, and the bears don't pay attention to international borders. So it’s critical, I would say, that we are in close collaboration and communication and I would carry that logic over to other species.”

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