The Biden administration unveiled a proposal to reintroduce grizzly bear populations in the federally-managed North Cascades National Park in northern Washington.
The proposal — published in federal filings Friday morning by the National Park Service (NPS) and Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) — includes three options, two which would involve actively restoring populations of the threatened apex predator species and one ‘no action’ alternative which would maintain current management practices. As part of the announcement, the public is invited to comment through mid-November.
‘If this part of our natural heritage is restored, it should be done in a way that ensures communities, property, and the animals can all coexist peacefully,’ Hugh Morrison, the regional FWS director, said in a statement.
Under the plan Friday, NPS and FWS would release up to seven grizzly bears annually into the North Cascades ecosystem over the course of the next five to 10 years. The administration’s overarching goal would be to establish a grizzly bear population of roughly 200 bears in the coming decades.
According to the announcement, grizzly bears occupied the North Cascades and served as an ‘essential part of the ecosystem’ for thousands of years. However, in the 20th century, as a result of aggressive hunting practices, the species was driven into near extinction and the last confirmed sighting of a grizzly bear in the North Cascades ecosystem was in 1996.
‘The National Parks Service and Fish and Wildlife Service should end this process immediately by rescinding the draft EIS and proposed 10(j) rule. The introduction of grizzlies into the North Cascades would be devastating for our North Central Washington communities,’ said Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Dan Newhouse, R-Wash.
‘Time and again, our communities have spoken to express staunch opposition to the introduction of these apex predators, which would be detrimental to our families, wildlife and livestock alike,’ he added. ‘I’m beyond disappointed that the Biden administration is ignoring our concerns by moving forward with the introduction while putting on the façade of seeking more public input after their decision has clearly been made.’
Plans to reintroduce grizzly bears to the North Cascades dates back years to the Obama administration. Then, after significant state opposition led by Newhouse, the Trump administration concluded that grizzly bears would not be restored in the ecosystem.
Former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt noted in July 2020 that grizzly bears are not in danger of extinction and that his agency could manage populations across their existing range.
But late last year, following extensive litigation from environmental groups, the Biden administration announced it would again review whether to move forward with restoration, a process that led to the proposal Friday.
‘We have previously provided extensive comments opposing grizzly bear reintroduction into our local communities,’ the commissioners of Chelan County, Washington, which is located near North Cascades, wrote to the NPS in late 2022. ‘We continue to oppose grizzly bear reintroduction given the likely negative impacts to public safety, economic development, recreation opportunities and the overall livelihood of our rural communities.’
‘The federal agencies leading this effort have generally failed to address these concerns and have failed to engage in any meaningful way Chelan County and other neighboring counties in the proposed grizzly bear restoration area,’ they continued in their letter.
In addition, the Washington Cattlemen’s Association, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Public Lands Council have opposed reintroducing grizzly bears to the region over the species potential devastating impact on cattle.
But environmental groups cheered the proposal Friday, saying bears ‘clearly belong’ in the North Cascades.
‘I’m delighted to see that a plan to restore grizzly bears to the North Cascades is moving forward,’ said Andrea Zaccardi, the carnivore conservation legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. ‘Grizzly bears once thrived in the North Cascades, and this is a good step toward bringing grizzlies back to this vast, wild area where they clearly belong.’