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Public Invited to Open Houses on Proposed Alternatives for Grizzly Bear Restoration in North Cascades

Jan 12, 2017


Federal officials want to restore Grizzly bears to the North Cascades, and on Thursday released a draft plan with four options, ranging from taking no action to varying efforts to capture bears from other sites and transplant them to 9,800 square miles of mostly public land surrounding North Cascades National Park including a huge swath of western Okanogan County.

Two of the alternatives envision a goal of about 200 bears within 60 to 100 years, while a third expedited option expects to restore 200 animals in 25 years primarily by relocating 5 to 7 bears to the area until their efforts result in a population of roughly 200 bears..

The National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not pick a preferred alternative. Instead they’re seeking public comments over the next several weeks on what steps they should take to restore the grizzly bear population.

In Washington, the grizzly plan has stoked intense debate as federal officials sought input in 2015 as it developed its draft environmental-impact statement.

Supporters said the shy, massive creatures should be brought back; that the population won’t recover without help and their return would increase the biodiversity of the ecosystem.

Others worried about potential increased dangers to people and livestock and opposed the move over potential impacts to communities, ranchers, farmers and others.

Federal officials say that grizzly bears tend to avoid areas of human activity, and the animals would be relocated in remote areas, away from grazing allotments. They also say the bears will be radio-collared and monitored. Grizzly bears would likely come from areas in northwestern Montana or south-central British Columbia.

An estimated 50,000 grizzlies once roamed much of North America. Most were killed off by hunters in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and they now occupy about 2 percent of their original range across the Lower 48 states.

They were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1975. And in the North Cascades, the population is estimated to be fewer than 20 animals, according to Fish and Wildlife Service.

The most recent confirmed sighting of a bear was in 1996 in the U.S. portion of the North Cascades ecosystem. A bear, however, was confirmed in British Columbia within 20 miles of the U.S.

A federal 1997 plan designated the North Cascades ecosystem as one of five grizzly-bear recovery zones. The others are in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

The 1997 plan called for an environmental review to evaluate a range of alternatives for recovering the North Cascades grizzly population, but no funds were allocated until 2014. The environmental impact statement is expected to be finalized this fall.

Eight public meetings are scheduled next month. The first in our area will be held February 15th at the Winthrop Barn in Winthrop, the second on February 16th at the Okanogan County Fair Grounds Annex.  Both meetings will take place from 6-8pm.

The public comment period runs until March 14th.  Comments can be submitted online at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/grizzlydeis.  They can also be mailed to the Superintendent North Cascades National Park Service, 810 State Route 20, Sedro-Woolley, WA 98284.  Comments can also be submitted at the public meetings.

FWS warns that comments will not be accepted by fax or email, and specifically states that bulk comments submitted on behalf of others will not be accepted.


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