Trail through Yaak needs to be rerouted to protect grizzlies

I have been visiting and hiking in the Yaak area since the mid-1990s. As a hiker, camper and wildlife educator, I believe the currently used Pacific Northwest Trail route through the Yaak/Northwest Scenic Peaks area should be altered.

This is not an area anything like other parts of the trail’s route; this area is extremely remote, with almost no services or infrastructure for hikers who need supplies or who run into trouble. You often drive the roads or hike the trails without ever seeing another person — a big problem if you run into trouble.

But the most important reason the trail should not go through this area is not about me, but wildlife. With so few grizzlies in this area, and an incredibly low number of breeding-age females, we simply cannot afford for an ever-increasing number of hikers to have an encounter with a bear that could result in the bear being killed.

I have seen social media posts of Pacific Northwest Trail hikers bragging about not needing bear spray once they leave Glacier, for example, and studies show that carrying bear spray is the best possible way to deter a charging bear.

In addition, back in the 1970s when this trail’s route was first proposed, noted bear biologist the late Dr. Charles Jonkel proposed a different route for the trail, precisely for this reason — to protect a fragile population of grizzly bears. Even just having that number of people hiking through this area will result in additional stress on these bears.

Having spent time in this area, I can also attest to the fact that this more southern route would be much better for hikers for many reasons — access to supplies, medical facilities, cell service, and more recreational opportunities, as the more southern route follows the Kootenai River.

There is simply no good reason for this trail to follow the northern route through the Yaak and Northwest Scenic Peaks area; it needs to be rerouted. I would encourage collaborative discussion about a better route.

-- Tara Morrison, White Bear Lake, Minnesota

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