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Coming to Terms with Bears: A conversation with Chris Morgan

Brian Zeiler
Stewart, Tabori & Chang

Over the years, bears have gone from primal menace to environmental icon, while enduring a close brush with extinction along the way. Ecologist and Bellingham resident Chris Morgan works to educate people about bears, especially the bears we share the Cascades Mountains with.

On this Earth Day, we present a recent conversation about the importance of coming to terms with these large carnivores.

Morgan has authored a coffee-table book called "Bears of the Last Frontier". He believes what's good for bears is good for people. He says they are a barometer that indicates to humans the places that are still wild enough to support such a powerful representative of the animal kingdom. Bears, he says, perform a valuable function as a "canary in a coalmine" that alert us to the fact that we're losing an area as a wild habitat.

Grizzly bears, he says, are a sensitive species.

"We've only got a small number of grizzlies here in the Cascades, for example. We used to have hundreds. Now, we certainly have less than twenty. It might be closer to five. In historic times, there were as many as 100, 000 to 200, 000 in the Lower 48. Now we're down to just over a thousand." The grizzly habitat in Washington, Morgan says, starts about an hour from Seattle, and it's amazing - because there are only four states in the Lower 48 that can claim that grizzly bear presence."

As founder of the North Cascades Grizzly Bear Outreach Project, Morgan says he aims to provide information to the public about grizzlies in a "non-advocacy" way:

  • What a grizzly bear is and how do they behave?
  • What is the nature of its ecology?
  • How do you stay safe in bear country?
  • How do residents of grizzly country manage their yards - things like garbage, compost and bird seed - that attract these creatures?

Morgan's three-part documentary, "Bears of the Last Frontier", airs May 8th on the PBS program "Nature".

Liam Moriarty started with KPLU in 1996 as our freelance correspondent in the San Juan Islands. He’s been our full-time Environment Reporter since November, 2006. In between, Liam was News Director at Jefferson Public Radio in Ashland, Oregon for three years and reported for a variety of radio, print and web news sources in the Northwest. He's covered a wide range of environment issues, from timber, salmon and orcas to oil spills, land use and global warming. Liam is an avid sea kayaker, cyclist and martial artist.