Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Grizzly Bears one step closer to returning to North Cascades

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SEDRO-WOOLLEY - Federal agencies have taken a major step towards reintroducing grizzly bears to the North Cascades ecosystem in Washington state, where the bears have been functionally extinct for decades. 

On Thursday, the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released their final environmental impact statement (EIS) evaluating options for restoring a grizzly bear population to the 6 million-acre North Cascades region. The agencies identified translocating a small number of bears from other populations to kickstart a new population as their preferred alternative.

“Today we celebrate our national parks as places where wildlife thrives and ecosystems are made whole,” said Theresa Pierno, president and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association. “For years, NPCA has worked tirelessly to bring grizzlies back to their historic homeland. The planned return of the grizzly bear to North Cascades National Park is a symbol of the power of perseverance.”

Under this proposed plan, biologists would capture grizzly bears from healthy source populations and release them gradually in remote areas of the North Cascades over several years until an initial population of around 25 bears is established. The reintroduced population would be designated as an "experimental" population under the Endangered Species Act, giving wildlife managers more flexibility in bear management.

“After years of advocacy the Upper Skagit Tribe looks forward to the day the great bear returns to the rugged North Cascades which our people previously shared with grizzlies for thousands of years,” said Scott Schuyler, policy representative for the Upper Skagit Tribe, whose territory lies within the recovery zone. “We thank leaders at the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Department of Interior for their intention to restore a cultural icon in the North Cascades.”

Grizzly bears once roamed the rugged North Cascades for thousands of years before being pushed to the brink of extirpation in the late 20th century by excessive hunting and habitat destruction. The last confirmed grizzly sighting in the U.S. portion of the ecosystem was in 1996. 

“The Snoqualmie Tribe is excited to hear this news, and to know that this hard-fought effort to bring home grizzlies is close to becoming a reality,” said Snoqualmie Indian Tribe Tribal Chairman Robert M. de los Angeles. “This is a critical moment in history, with governments, organizations, and individuals working together to welcome grizzlies back after human action removed them from their home. Snoqualmie thanks the leadership of our congressional leaders, the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Department of Interior for their persistent work and advocacy.”

The release of the final EIS does not constitute a final decision to reintroduce bears. Federal agencies must next issue an official record of decision in the coming weeks after a 30-day waiting period. Supporters say reintroducing a predator like the grizzly is key to restoring the ecological integrity of the vast North Cascades wilderness.

"The agencies have shown that they are listening to local communities by including necessary management flexibility for a successful reintroduction effort in the long run," said Jasmine Minbashian of the Methow Valley Citizens Council, noting that 85% of Americans support grizzly restoration according to a recent poll.

While celebrating the long-awaited progress, advocates vowed to continue pushing for grizzly reintroduction to finally become a reality in the North Cascades after decades of absence.

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