The federal government has revealed a comprehensive blueprint for the reintroduction of grizzly bears to the North Cascades in Washington state.
Once integral to the ecosystem of north-central Washington’s sprawling forests, mountains and valleys, grizzly bears have been absent from this landscape for decades. The North Cascades currently stands as one of the last remaining areas in the contiguous United States where these grizzlies have the potential to thrive once more. Federal agencies are now contemplating the establishment of a grizzly bear population that could reach 200 individuals within a century.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Officials said that the reintroduction of grizzly bears to the North Cascades holds immense ecological significance, benefiting the overall health of the region’s ecosystem. This endeavor also carries deep cultural importance for Native American tribes, whose heritage is intertwined with the grizzlies. The plan involves relocating grizzly bears from well-populated areas like Yellowstone to the North Cascades during the summer until the population reaches self-sustaining levels.
A previous attempt in 2020 was terminated during the Trump administration, and the latest plan faces opposition. Local concerns have been raised, with some landowners and business owners in rural areas expressing worries about the potential impact on agriculture, timber and farming.
In response to these concerns, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife has introduced a proposal offering more flexibility for federal agencies in managing bears that may stray onto non-federal lands or cause issues. This proposal aims to address safety concerns and incorporates public feedback received during the previous attempt.
Under this plan, government specialists would have the authority to deter or relocate grizzly bears if they ventured into neighborhoods, reducing potential conflicts.
The government’s draft plan and environmental impact statement, published last month by the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service, outline three options: reintroducing grizzly bears with added flexibility, reintroducing bears without the additional leeway, or not introducing any bears at all. A final decision is expected in the spring.
The North Cascades, covering approximately 6.1 million acres of mostly undeveloped land with abundant wildlife, rainforests, glaciers, and meadows, once thrived with grizzly bears until hunters nearly wiped them out during the 19th and 20th centuries.
The reintroduction plan proposes bringing five to seven grizzly bears to the North Cascades each year for five to ten years, with the goal of establishing a population of 25 grizzlies. Due to their slow reproductive rates, it could take between 60 to 100 years to reach the target of 200 grizzly bears in the North Cascades.
The proposal has garnered over 2,200 comments already, and public meetings are planned for the coming months to engage with local communities and gather further feedback. Conservation groups have praised the plan’s experimental population designation as a reasonable compromise.
Concerns persist about the potential interaction between grizzlies and local residents. U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican representing central Washington, remains critical of the plan, arguing that it does not adequately address these concerns. He has introduced legislation to withdraw the proposal and extend the public comment period, asserting that the Biden administration is not giving priority to local apprehensions.
Federal biologists anticipate limited conflicts between grizzlies and humans, but the plan aims to mitigate such incidents through careful management. The region already houses black bears and wolves.