Restore the North Cascades Grizzly Bear
Conservation Northwest / Jan 12, 2017 / Grizzly Bears, News Releases
Release of draft restoration strategies welcomed as a historic step towards recovery of North America’s most at-risk bear population
The National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released options for restoring grizzly bears in the North Cascades. The release of the draft environmental report, developed in partnership with other state and federal agencies, was applauded by conservation leaders who’ve long sought to recover this grizzly population before the species vanishes from the region.
The release of the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is an important next step for a public recovery process, mandated by the Endangered Species Act. The EIS officially began in 2015 after decades of urging by federal and local land managers, scientists, tribal nations and wildlife and environmental organizations. The 60-day public comment period for the draft EIS will include eight public meetings held around the North Cascades region.
“In some of our most rugged national parks, we’ve celebrated incredible successes for wildlife over the past several years, and grizzly bear recovery is the next opportunity,” said Rob Smith, Northwest Regional Director for National Parks Conservation Association. “In the Northwest, we’ve seen salmon populations rebound in Olympic National Park after the Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams were removed. And just this winter, Pacific fishers were successfully reintroduced at Mount Rainier. The time to restore grizzly bears in the North Cascades Ecosystem is now.”
“Grizzly bears are highly intelligent, charismatic animals,” said Joe Scott, International Programs Director for Conservation Northwest. “For many Northwesterners they are the very embodiment of wildness. Returning this magnificent animal to the North Cascades is a rare opportunity to restore our natural heritage. But we will need to work together – public agencies, local communities, First Nations, conservation, backcountry users and rural economic interests to do so; and so that it works for everyone. Then we will have cemented our wildlife legacy by leaving the North Cascades a bit wilder for future generations.”
Leaders from local Native American nations have also demonstrated strong support for grizzly bear restoration that is consistent with treaty rights and access to traditional areas of hunting, fishing, gathering and ceremonial purposes. The species is culturally important for many Northwest tribes and Canadian First Nations. Several indigenous nations have also passed resolutions in support of grizzly bear restoration.
“We are pleased to see the release of the draft recovery plan that will guide the recovery of grizzly bears in Washington state through a scientific and public process that includes all Washingtonians,” said Shawn Cantrell Northwest program director for Defenders of Wildlife. “We know from recent polling and from the public comments that came in during scoping of this process that a majority of Washingtonians support recovery of grizzlies in the wilds of the North Cascades.”
“Bringing grizzlies back to the North Cascades is a tremendous wildlife conservation opportunity,” said Tom France, Regional Director for the National Wildlife Federation. “The North Cascades are cherished for their rugged country, abundant wildlife and rich opportunities for hunting, fishing and enjoying our natural heritage. It’s a place big and wild enough for both people and grizzly bears to roam.”
“Grizzly bears play an essential role in ensuring healthy, western North American ecosystems like the North Cascades,” said Robert Long, PhD, a senior conservation scientist at Woodland Park Zoo. “Their natural behaviors help regulate prey species, dispersed plant seeds, and maintain sustainable landscapes in surprising ways. For example, when a grizzly bear uses its claws to dig in the earth for food, it is also aerating the soil, helpful for meadow ecology and wild flowers. Recovering the grizzly to the North Cascades is an investment in the future health of this unique ecosystem.”
Woodland Park Zoo, Northwest Trek, Conservation Northwest, Defenders of Wildlife, National Parks Conservation Association and the National Wildlife Federation are among the founding partners of the Friends of the North Cascades Grizzly Bear Coalition, an independent and informal partnership supporting grizzly bear restoration. Since the organization’s launch in May of 2016, more than two dozen organizations, businesses and tribes and over two thousand supporting individuals have signed on as Friends of the North Cascades Grizzly Bear.
The North Cascades Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone, anchored by North Cascades National Park, was designated by federal scientists in 1997, when it was determined the region has sufficient quality habitat to support a sizeable grizzly population. It is the only grizzly bear recovery area on the west coast of the contiguous United States.
Biologists estimate there are fewer than ten grizzly bears remaining in the North Cascades today, making it the most at-risk bear population in North America. The last verified grizzly sighting in Washington’s Cascades was in 1996, with more recent documentations occurring in the British Columbia portion of the range.
The main threat to grizzly bears in this recovery zone is a small population size and isolation from other grizzly populations in central British Columbia and the Rocky Mountains. Successful restoration of North Cascades grizzly bears would be a historic victory, indicating restoration of all wildlife populations that were present in the region, prior to the turn of the 19th century.