Back to the Drawing Board


by Kayla Sargent

After discussions came to a quiet halt about a year ago, the comment period on the draft grizzly bear recovery plan for North Cascades National Park has reopened.  The National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a 90-day extension to the public comment window closing October 24.

The drafted plan suggested four alternative routes all with the goal of reaching a population of 200 grizzly bears in the North Cascades Ecosystem (NCE).  Written in January 2017, the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) said the overall population of grizzly bears in the NCE is “unknown; however, it is highly unlikely that the NCE contains a viable grizzly bear population.”  According to the EIS, there had only been four confirmed sightings of grizzly bears in the NCE over the past ten years, all of which occurred in British Columbia and are suspected to be only two separate bears. “Grizzly bears in the NCE are at risk of local extinction,” it said.

The previous comment period ended in April 2017.  126,000 comments, 80 percent in support of reintroduction, were received during that period, according to a Washington news station.  Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had announced plans to finalize a recovery plan by the end of 2018, but just months prior to his resignation the plan came to a stop.  Now reopened, the comments from 2017 will be included in the new public input session.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the Public Lands Council (PLC) quickly stated they would stand in strong opposition to the NCE grizzly bear reintroduction during the public comment period.

“This industry remains fervently opposed to the introduction of yet another federally-protected apex predator in the Northern Cascades,” Ethan Lane, PLC Executive Director and Senior Executive Director of the NCBA Federal Lands, said.  “Rural communities and ranching families throughout the region are already overwhelmed by exploding populations of gray wolves – it would be entirely inappropriate for the federal government to further exacerbate these struggles by adding more grizzly bears to the region.”

Lane said the two organizations would encourage their members as well as others in the area to voice their opposition.  Oregon Cattlemen’s Association (OCA) quickly stated their stance when the announcement was made July 25.

“This action could bring further devastation to the livelihoods of local farmers and ranchers,” OCA Executive Director Jerome Rosa said in a call for comments.

On the other hand, groups like Conservation Northwest, an organization dedicated to “restoring iconic wildlife and protecting our natural heritage for future generations”, is encouraging comments in support of reintroduction.  The group hoped the reopened comment period will lead to “the completion of the EIS and concrete actions to recover the iconic grizzly bear.”  They are confident that the new comment period will have “overwhelming support” like the previous.

“The grizzly bear is at the heart of what makes the North Cascades and the American West truly wild,” Conservation Northwest International Program Lead Joe Scott said.  “We are confident that residents of and visitors to the North Cascades can live, work and recreate safely and proudly alongside the grizzly bear with some straightforward steps — just as they already do with Washington’s tens of thousands of black bears, and as people do in Idaho and Montana as well as in British Columbia.”

To comment on the proposal, go to https://parkplanning.nps.gov/grizzlydeis. Or, mail or hand-deliver comments to: Superintendent’s Office, North Cascades National Park Service Complex, 810 Highway 20, Sedro-Woolley, WA 98284.

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