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North Cascades Grizzly Bear

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On the edge of extinction? A very small population of grizzly bears continues to roam Washington's North Cascades. They need our help to persist and recover.

Grizzly bear photographed in April 2010 just 15 miles north of the U.S. border. Photo: B.C. Ministry of the Environment
Grizzly bear photographed in April 2010 just 15 miles north of the U.S. border. Photo: B.C. Ministry of the Environment

January 2017 update - Open comment period for grizzly bear restoration in the North Cascades

Since our founding in 1989, Conservation Northwest has worked towards the recovery of a healthy grizzly bear population in the North Cascades.
These great bears have lived in our region for thousands of years, and today less than ten remain. But it’s not too late to restore them. And now is the time to act!

The National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife have announced a public planning process (EIS) for restoring a healthy grizzly bear population in Washington’s North Cascades Ecosystem. These agencies will accept comments from the public until March 14, 2017.

Submit a comment today voicing your support for grizzly bear restoration. Or, find a public meeting near you to voice your support in person. 

A 2016 poll conducted throughout Washington state showed strong support (80 percent) for grizzly bear restoration in the North Cascades.
Three of the proposed alternatives in the draft EIS lay out plans to augment the struggling North Cascades grizzly bear population under varying timelines, but one is a ‘no-action’ alternative. The science is clear: no action means grizzly bears will go locally extinct in the North Cascades. We cannot let this happen.
Together, we need to show that thousands of individuals, communities, organizations and businesses support the return of a functioning grizzly bear population in the North Cascades through active restoration efforts.

Please submit a comment in favor of Alternative C: Incremental Restoration today. We believe alternative C strikes a sound balance to meet the mutual goals of grizzly bear recovery and the needs of people.

Together, we can save the North Cascades grizzly bear. 


More links and helpful resources 

  • 2016 poll shows 80 percent support for restoration

How can you help?

The public comment period for the first phase of the North Cascades grizzly bear restoration EIS is now closed. But you can still share our recommended statement (below) with friends and family to share your support! 

Grizzly bears have been an important part of the North Cascades Ecosystem for thousands of years. They play a vital role for the health of the environment and other wildlife species, figure prominently in regional Native American and First Nations’ cultures, and contribute to the richness of our natural heritage in the Pacific Northwest. Now is the time to restore a healthy grizzly bear population in the North Cascades.

Did you know Washington state is grizzly country? 

With nearly 10,000 square miles stretching from I-90 north to the Canadian border and anchored by North Cascades National Park, the designated North Cascades Grizzly Bear Recovery Area is one of largest blocks of wild federal land remaining in the lower 48 states. But it is isolated from viable grizzly bear populations in other parts of the U.S. and Canada.

Thank you to the Tulalip Tribes Charitable Contributions, Icicle Fund, and Temper of the Times Foundation for supporting our work to restore grizzly bears to the North Cascades!

Research indicates this wilderness landscape has quality habitat capable of supporting a self-sustaining grizzly bear population. A few grizzly bears have recently been sighted in the Canadian part of the ecosystem, but no grizzly bears have been sighted in the United States portion for several years.

Given the low number of existing grizzly bears, their very slow reproductive rate and other constraints, the North Cascades grizzly bear population is considered the most at-risk grizzly bear population in the United States today. With so few grizzly bears left in the North Cascades, biologists believe they may soon disappear entirely from the area if recovery actions aren't taken.

Show your support online!

Washingtonians and Grizzly Bears

In the past decade, polling has reflected strong public support for North Cascades grizzly bear restoration that transcends geographic and demographic lines. 

In an independent poll conducted in 2005  in and adjacent to the North Cascades GBRZ, residents demonstrated strong support for grizzly bear recovery. The survey was consistent with previous polls. The findings included:

  • 81% agree with the following statement: Grizzly bears are an important and essential component of the North Cascades Ecosystem; 
  • 76% agree with the following statement: Grizzly bears were here before humans and have an inherent right to live in the North Cascades; 
  • 86% agree with the following statement: Grizzly bears in the North Cascades Mountains should be preserved for future generations.

Did you know? Grizzly bears are primarily omnivores, with up to 90% of their diet consisting of plants, berries, seeds and insects. The other 10% is meat and fish, and most of that is typically carrion from winter-kill deer and elk.

Why Do We Need Grizzly Bears? 

  • Grizzly bears are culturally and spiritually significant to First Nations throughout the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. Grizzlies are seen as teachers, guides and symbols of strength and wisdom to indigenous peoples. They are a regional icon and a key part of our natural heritage.
  • Grizzly bears are considered an “umbrella” species, and they play an important role for healthy ecosystems. Habitat that supports grizzly bears also supports hundreds of other plants and animals and human needs like clean water, healthy forests and quality outdoor opportunities. 
  • Grizzly bears have been part of the Pacific Northwest landscape for thousands of years. We have an ethical and legal obligation to restore this native species. Grizzly bear recovery in the North Cascades is an important part of national efforts to restore endangered animals where suitable habitat still exists.
Even though many thousands of people live, work and recreate in bear country every year from Wyoming to Montana, Idaho and Washington state, grizzly bear attacks are extremely rare.

Why Grizzly Bears in the North Cascades?

  • Grizzly bears have coexisted with people in the North Cascades Ecosystem from when the first people arrived in North America. This changed during the 19th century with the boom in the fur trade. Nearly 3,800 grizzly bear hides were shipped out of area forts during one 25-year period.
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated the North Cascades Ecosystem as one of six Grizzly Bear Recovery Zones (GBRZ), wild areas where there is abundant quality habitat to support viable grizzly populations as part of a national strategy to recover grizzly bears in the lower 48 states.North Cascades GBRZ Map NPS/USFWS
  • The public lands within the North Cascades GBRZ are already managed to maintain critical grizzly bear habitat and allow for grizzly bear recovery. Approximately 41% of the area is protected as national park lands or designated wilderness with limited motorized access. Adjacent to North Cascades National Park is B.C.’s Manning Provincial Park, which provides additional quality grizzly bear habitat.
  • Grizzly bears are at high risk of extirpation, or going locally extinct, in the North Cascades. Restoring a self-sustaining population would contribute to the restoration of biodiversity in the ecosystem for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.

Grizzly Bears and Recreation

“There hasn't been a permanently closed trail or area in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in 40 years because of grizzly bears.” - Kim Barber, senior grizzly bear biologist, Shoshone National Forest

The Flathead National Forest in Montana has the highest density of grizzly bears in the Lower 48. Even with populations of several hundred bears, persistent access closures are almost nonexistent and dangerous encounters between humans and grizzly bears are exceedingly rare. While there are occasionally temporary grizzly-related closures, these are usually the result of food-related considerations.

With education and awareness, steps to live and recreate safely in grizzly country become commonplace. North Cascades National Park already requires visitors keep their camps bear-safe by using bear resistant trash receptacles, bear canisters, or by hanging food, trash and other fragrant items at least ten feet off the ground and more than 100 yards from tents or sleeping areas. 

Many thousands of people already live, work and recreate in grizzly bear country every year from Wyoming to Montana, Idaho and NE Washington state, and conflicts with grizzly bears are very rare. Bear attacks are extremely rare. With some education and awareness, steps to recreate safely in grizzly country are really pretty easy and straightforward.

For more information on being “bear aware” please visit

Even after restoration efforts move forward, it is very unlikely that you will see or encounter a grizzly bear in the North Cascades Ecosystem. Grizzly bear numbers will likely remain low and there are many more black bears. Regardless of the species, if you do see a bear, respect its need for space. Try to make a wide detour or leave the area. If you suddenly surprise a bear at close range, STOP. Don’t crowd the bear – leave it a clear escape route and in most cases it will quickly exit. 

A Cultural Icon for Native Americans and First Nations

Grizzly bears have long been part of the heritage and cultural identity of Northwest First Nations and Native American tribes. Several nations have previously voiced their support for grizzly bear restoration in the North Cascades, including the Lillooet First Nation, the Okanagan Nation Alliance (including the Colville Confederated Tribes) and the Tulalip Tribes.

“Having grizzly bears in the Cascades is part of our region’s heritage and identity, and the Tulalip people have long held a cultural connection with these bears,” said the Tulalip Tribes in a 2007 statement. 

“Having grizzly bears in the Cascades is part of our region’s heritage and identity, and the Tulalip people have long held a cultural connection with these bears,” said the Tulalip Tribes in a 2007 statement. “It would be tragic to lose those connections. We must act before they are gone for good. We support efforts by North Cascades National Park and the USFWS to begin environmental analysis regarding measures to save and recover the North Cascades grizzly population in a way that incorporates thorough citizen, community and stakeholder input, and fully respects tribal treaty rights.”

Restoring our Grizzly Bear Legacy

  • 1800’s to early 1900’s: Unregulated trapping, poisoning, hunting and habitat loss eliminate grizzly bears from 98% of their former range in the contiguous United States. 
  • 1967: The last legally hunted grizzly bear was shot in what is now the North Cascades National Park Complex.
  • 1975: Grizzly bear listed as “Threatened” under the United States Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found that the North Cascades grizzly bear warrants an “Endangered” classification.
  • 1983: Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC), including representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, USFS, USGS, state Wildlife Departments, and the British Columbia Ministry for the Environment, was established to coordinate grizzly recovery.
  • 1991: A team of U.S. and Canadian biologists submits a report  to the IGBC affirming the suitability of the North Cascades to support a viable population of grizzly bears. The IGBC identified six ecosystems in four states with substantial quality habitat for grizzly bear recovery. The North Cascades is the only recovery area outside of the Rocky Mountains.  The North Cascades Recovery Chapter was finalized in 1997. 
  • 2001: Western Wildlife Outreach, a comprehensive public awareness project, begins providing thousands of citizens with science-based information about bear behavior and tips for coexistence.
    Grizzly bear in NE Washington’s Selkirk Mountains. Photo: WDFW
    Grizzly bear in NE Washington’s Selkirk Mountains. Photo: WDFW
  • 2013: The Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Initiative is formed to protect and recover threatened grizzly bears and safeguard their habitat in southwest British Columbia and northwest Washington state. Partners include First Nations, local governments and conservation and hunting groups.  
  • 2014: After nearly two decades of delay, the federal government announced it would conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in 2015. The EIS process formally began in February 2015 and is intended to engage local communities to determine the most effective ways to restore grizzly bears in the Cascades to self-sustaining numbers. Public comments during the EIS scoping period showed strong support for grizzly bear restoration. 
  • 2015-16: The first public comment period (the scoping period) of the North Cascades grizzly bear restoration EIS was completed in summer 2015. 
  • 2017: The Draft Environmental Impact Statement, including alternatives for restoration and public comment opportunities, is expected in January 2017. 

What Happens During the EIS Process?

The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process is completed in the following ordered steps: Notice of Intent (NOI), draft EIS, final EIS, and record of decision (ROD).

  • The Notice of Intent is published in the Federal Register by the lead federal agency and signals the initiation of the process.
  • Scoping, an open process involving the public and other federal, state, tribal, and local agencies, commences immediately to identify the major and important issues for consideration during the process.
  • Public involvement and agency coordination continues throughout the entire process.
  • The draft EIS provides a detailed description of the proposal, the purpose and need, reasonable alternatives, the affected environment, and presents analysis of the anticipated beneficial and adverse environmental effects of the alternatives.
  • Following a formal comment period and receipt of comments from the public and other agencies, the final EIS will be developed and issued. The final EIS will address the comments on the draft and identify, based on analysis and comments, the "preferred alternative".
  • After the final EIS is complete, a record of decision is signed by the agency (or in this case joint agencies) thereby allowing the selected alternative to be implemented.

Restoring a Critical Piece of the North Cascades Ecosystem 

The return of a self-sustaining population of grizzly bears to the North Cascades would bode well for the ecosystem: an ecosystem capable of supporting grizzly bears – complete with healthy vegetation and prey populations, and secure habitat – is also capable of supporting the other species that call this ecosystem home.

As the agencies move forward with the EIS process, conservation and recreation communities will be actively engaged to ensure this process is led by the best science, stakeholder and citizen input, and the deeply held value of Washingtonians that grizzly bears deserve a place in our wild North Cascades for many generations to come.

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