From biologist Bob Everitt: Support North Cascades Grizzly Bear Recovery

From biologist Bob Everitt: Support North Cascades Grizzly Bear Recovery

Conservation Northwest / Nov 13, 2018 / Grizzly Bears, North Cascades, Restoring Wildlife

In response to a local op-ed, Bob Everitt, former Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Regional Director for Northern Puget Sound, wrote the following piece supporting restoration of grizzly bears in the North Cascades.

By Bob Everett, wildlife biologist and retired WDFW regional director

I am writing to address the concerns Snohomish County Councilman Nate Nehring raised in his opinion piece about North Cascades grizzly bear recovery, which appeared in the North County Outlook on July 11, 2018.

I recently retired from the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) after a 37-year career, serving as the Regional Director for Northern Puget Sound for many years. In that capacity, I worked on grizzly bear recovery issues in the North Cascades for more than 30 years. I was a member on the North Cascades Grizzly Bear Subcommittee, which oversees grizzly bear recovery in this area. I chaired that subcommittee for several terms, and also represented the state on the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC).

Those experiences gave me first-hand experience with the recovery process, the science behind grizzly bear recovery and associated social/political issues that are involved in this type of recovery effort—both in Washington and other grizzly bear recovery areas in the West.

First and foremost, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is inherently a vehicle to address local concerns, incorporate ideas generated by the community into the recovery process, and ultimately hold federal agencies “accountable” to local communities. Councilman Nehring’s implication that the agencies ignored local communities in their efforts to restore grizzlies to the North Cascades is simply not accurate.

Grizzly bear in British Columbia’s Coast Range. Photo: David Rasmus

On the contrary, the agencies led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and WDFW held more than 70 meetings over three years in communities surrounding the North Cascades, in both western and eastern Washington. These meetings included open-house-style formats, presentations to county councils and Tribes and notably, a special meeting with Councilman Nate Nehring and the Mayor of Darrington, Dan Rankin.

It was by all accounts as thorough an EIS process as has ever been conducted on the recovery of a wildlife species in the U.S., with all due diligence paid to the concerns of local communities.

An editorial published by the Everett Herald on April 3, 2018, supporting the return of the grizzly bear to the North Cascades underscored the importance of completing the comprehensive review of options that resulted from the EIS with a high level of transparency and continued community involvement.

The editorial also quoted Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, who announced his support for grizzly bear recovery in the North Cascades last spring, saying, “The loss of the grizzly bear in the North Cascades would disturb the ecosystem and rob the region of an icon.”

As Councilman Nehring points out, grizzly bears have large home ranges. But that doesn’t mean populated areas are on their itineraries. If they were, we’d see grizzlies wandering around the streets and yards in communities adjacent to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, where there are nearly 2,000 grizzly bears collectively. Such interactions are still quite rare, especially if residents secure any food attractants grizzlies find appealing, like garbage and pet foods—the same things that attract black bears into communities.

Interior Secretary Zinke endorsed grizzly bear restoration, in part citing his own experiences growing up around grizzlies in Montana. It gave restoration new hope, and served as a reminder that conservation should not be a partisan issue. Photo: Chase Gunnell

As an insurance policy, the agencies are also working on a special rule that will provide more flexibility to remove or otherwise actively manage animals that may run afoul of people. Recovery efforts elsewhere have shown human-bear conflict lessens human tolerance to the animals, and having the ability to quickly respond to any problem is a key to recovery success.  The agencies will seek further public comment upon the completion of the drafted rules.

It is important to note the North Cascades is among the wildest and most productive of grizzly bear recovery habitats in the lower 48 states, supported by an abundance of peer-reviewed science and years of field work.

As for concerns about grizzly bear presence adversely affecting tourism, we need only to look at Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, where these animals are actively managed to avoid negative interactions, and front and backcountry tourism is growing steadily.

As someone who has worked toward the goal of restoring the grizzly bear to the North Cascades for years, I have first-hand knowledge of the dedication and professionalism of the people involved, the integrity of the process and the soundness of the science that has gone into ensuring its success—for bears and people.

It is important we do everything possible to allow this icon of our wilderness to return to its native home in the North Cascades.

Bob Everitt, of Kirkland, recently retired after a career with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, including many years serving as the Director of WDFW’s Region 4, which covers much of Washington’s North Cascades.
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