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Grizzlies in North Cascades are latest focus for Bellingham ecologist

Bellingham ecologist and bear expert Chris Morgan appears in and narrates a new film short called “Wanted: Grizzly Bears?” It’s being released as federal agencies consider restoring a self-sustaining grizzly bear population to the U.S. side of the North Cascades, where they are nearing extinction. Here he is standing in front of Table Mountain.
Bellingham ecologist and bear expert Chris Morgan appears in and narrates a new film short called “Wanted: Grizzly Bears?” It’s being released as federal agencies consider restoring a self-sustaining grizzly bear population to the U.S. side of the North Cascades, where they are nearing extinction. Here he is standing in front of Table Mountain. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

The way Bellingham ecologist Chris Morgan sees it, the more you know about grizzly bears the less you’ll fear them.

So he traveled to trails, overlooks and towns of the North Cascades and asked adults and children what they thought of the iconic and feared creatures and to quiz them about their knowledge.

The results can be viewed in his new seven-minute film “Wanted: Grizzly Bears?”

“I’ve been working on communicating about grizzly bears in the North Cascades for a long time,” Morgan said. “We wanted to create a short film that answered some interesting questions about grizzlies, maybe bust some myths.”

The short piece is being released as federal agencies consider restoring a self-sustaining grizzly bear population to the U.S. side of the North Cascades, where they are on the edge of extinction.

The U.S. side of the ecosystem includes wilderness areas, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

People are coming down strongly on both sides of the issue, as they do in Morgan’s film. That’s how he likes it.

“There’s such a wide range of opinions out there about grizzly bears. It’s good to hear them from the horse’s mouth,” Morgan said in an interview. “It’s a genuine, honest, open film. It’s real members of the public speaking their minds.”

People who watch nature documentaries might recognize Morgan’s face or voice. He has hosted a number of films about bears in Alaska, including for PBS Nature and the BBC.

The “Wanted” short includes footage of grizzlies from one of them, a series called “Bears of the Last Frontier,” which was shot in Alaska.

These are public lands. These are public grizzly bears. This is a public issue. People should weigh in on it.

Chris Morgan, Bellingham ecologist and filmmaker

Morgan also is a filmmaker and bear biologist who has focused on the animals for 25 years. And in “Wanted,” he sets out to share what he knows while talking to people at stops near Artist Point, the North Cascades Highway overlook at Liberty Bell Mountain, Winthrop, and around Twisp.

“There’s so much misinformation out there,” Morgan said in an interview. “People think they’re far more dangerous than they are.”

For example, he asked people in the film, how much does a grizzly cub weigh when it’s born?

Their guesses ranged from 80 pounds down to 12 pounds.

The answer is 1 pound.

“They’re the size and weight of a squirrel,” Morgan said in an interview.

The bears’ diet also is a surprise to people, he said. Less than 20 percent of it is meat, and plants are their most common food.

In the end, Morgan hopes to pique people’s curiosity and for people to get involved.

“These are public lands. These are public grizzly bears. This is a public issue,” Morgan said. “People should weigh in on it.”

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

Watch the film

“Wanted: Grizzly Bears?” can be seen online at grizzlybearfilm.org.

More on grizzly bear recovery efforts in the North Cascades and elsewhere are at:

▪ nps.gov/noca/grizzly.htm, North Cascades National Park to read about the environmental impacts of restoring a self-sustaining grizzly bear population in the North Cascades ecosystem.

▪ igbconline.org, Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.

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