By CB Thomas
I want grizzly bears to be reintroduced to the North Cascades. There, I said it! I want to live in a wild place where the full spectrum of predators and prey, flora and fauna, all coexist. I want to live in a place where I can be immersed in wildness. I’m not just talking about wilderness. Wilderness can be dumbed down to simply an area without roads or vehicles. I want that too, but I long for wildness.
Our world has been watered down by modern conveniences. People live by the mantra of “bigger, better, more” and they want all of that now. Influencers spray online about their quasi-exploits in search of praise. Our young find their self-worth in likes. Lives are being lived in a virtual reality. Cities grow and traffic clogs and meaning is lost.
I moved to the North Cascades 12 years ago in search of a place that was more raw and real than where I came from. I saw in the North Cascades a place that felt almost like the wilds of Alaska. It is one of the largest, wildest places left within the 48 contiguous states. With the state highway closing in winter and nothing but the Pasayten Wilderness between this magical valley and the Canadian border, I found home.
We have all chosen to connect with the North Cascades. We have all made a conscious choice to live here full-time, part-time, or as a regular visitor. We aren’t spending time here by happenstance. Everyone has their own reasons, but I’d bet that a love of nature and wilderness would be amongst most everyone’s decision. We live here surrounded by wolf packs and cougars, snow hares and bald eagles, salmon and deer. Our 4-foot snowstorms and fires and floods rarely make the national news. We are a fortunate group. So few in our country have the opportunity to live with big, wild spaces out their back door.
But to embrace this place is to embrace being part of a larger wild fabric. The grizzly symbolizes wildness at its core: they are a majestic keystone species, an alpine gardener who plays an essential role in our North Cascades Ecosystem. Once restored to this place, their presence would be more felt than seen. Knowing that the grizzly is here, living in the mountains to our north and west would change this place — living and spending time near the grizzly would sharpen our awareness and bring clarity to our surroundings.
Within the last century, humans eradicated the grizzly in the North Cascades because they were trying to tame this land and viewed the bear as a threat. However, today we know that a tame world is a lifeless, homogenized world. We didn’t come to the North Cascades to find a tame world. By restoring grizzlies, we have an opportunity to restore a key native species and return some of its wildness.
Grizzlies are a necessary member of a healthy ecosystem: they spread and cultivate seeds, fertilize the forest, and create a balanced habitat for all species. Others can provide you with more scientific data that supports grizzly reintroduction, but I’ll argue that we need the grizzly to balance out our world and create a place that’s more wild and less tame. I’ll argue for wildness.
CB Thomas is the former manager of Goat’s Beard Mountain Supply and a resident of Mazama.