Report reaffirms grizzly bears historically inhabited North Cascades

Report reaffirms grizzly bears historically inhabited North Cascades

Conservation Northwest / Jul 24, 2018 / Grizzly Bears, North Cascades, Restoring Wildlife

Credible sightings, fur trapping records, agency reports and First Nations traditions affirm that grizzly bears historically inhabited the Cascade Mountains.

Scientists from the National Park Service have released a peer-reviewed report, A synthesis of historical and recent reports of grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) in the North Cascades Region (PDF), that reaffirms the fact that the North Cascades and surrounding areas were historically inhabited by a robust population of grizzly bears. The report is expected to soon be submitted for publication in a scientific journal.

The Weaver brothers’ cabin, displaying a grizzly bear pelt and other assorted pelts harvested from the Stehekin River basin near Lake Chelan. Source: National Park Service, photographer unknown.

Although sightings and observations since the 1990s have diminished, likely reflecting the imminent extirpation (local extinction) of grizzly bears in the North Cascades, the report documents 178 credible and geo-referenced observations of grizzly bears or their signs within the North Cascades Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone that were made between 1859 and 2015. Of these, 41 were designated as “confirmed” Class 1 observations and 139 were “high reliability” Class 2 observations.

The report also cites ethnographic studies and other documents that reveal “the prevalence of grizzly bears in the spiritual and hunting traditions of many First Nations groups living within the North Cascades and other areas of Washington”. Resolutions of support for grizzly restoration and documentation of the cultural significance of grizzly bears to area First Nations and Native American tribes are available on this webpage under Resolutions and Letters of Support.

This report follows past documentation confirming that grizzly bears long resided in this transboundary ecosystem stretching from southern British Columbia to Interstate 90 at Snoqualmie Pass, including a 1983 Washington Department of Game study summarizing 233 reports of grizzly bears in the region over the previous 130 years, and Hudson’s Bay Company fur trading records indicating thousands of grizzly pelts were shipped out of area forts in the late 19th century.

Grizzly bear photographed near Manning Provincial Park, British Columbia North Cascades. Photo John-Ashley Price, October 13, 2015. (Larger photo)

The last legally-killed grizzly bear in the North Cascades was shot by prospector Rocky Wilson in Fisher Basin, in what is now North Cascades National Park, in September 1967. The most recent confirmed grizzly bear sighting in the Washington portion of the North Cascades was near Glacier Peak in 1996. Grizzly bears were photographed in the British Columbia portion of the North Cascades near Manning Provincial Park in 2010, 2012 and 2015. Wildlife experts estimate that fewer than ten grizzlies remain in the transboundary ecosystem today.

The new report synthesizes recent historical records documenting the presence of grizzly bears in the North Cascades. The report is intended to educate the public as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service move ahead with plans to restore grizzlies to the North Cascades under the legal mandate of the Endangered Species Act, a public-process strongly supported by Washingtonians (local testimonials are available here).

It also serves as a response to repeated allegations by a small number of opponents to grizzly bear recovery in Washington who inaccurately insist that grizzlies never existed in the Washington Cascades.

Grizzly bear tracks near Mount Baker in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. 1989 Photo by Roger Christophersen, National Park Service.

While the report’s authors acknowledge the relative incompleteness of grizzly demographic records and archeological data, the report confirms the prehistoric and historic presence of grizzly bears in the North Cascades ecosystem and surrounding lowlands.

The report’s authors used archeological, ethnographic, and incidental sightings evidence from a variety of sources including Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) and other companies’ fur trade records, archaeological and ethnographical literature, and incidental observations from over the years.

Fur trade records came largely from Fort Vancouver, which was a fur collection hub from seven forts in Washington state and southwest British Columbia where HBC trading post clerks kept systematic but inconsistent records of the numbers of each species harvested each year. Between 1827 and 1857, HBC trading posts recorded 3,188 grizzly bear pelts from forts around the Cascades.

While scientists don’t have a clear and complete picture of grizzly bear demographics and other population specifics in our region, it should not be disputed that the animals were historically fairly widespread in Washington and in the North Cascades.

More information on grizzly bear restoration in the North Cascades, including FAQs, local testimonials, resources and resolutions of support, is available at