Trump Administration terminates North Cascades grizzly recovery

Trump Administration terminates North Cascades grizzly recovery

Conservation Northwest / Jul 08, 2020 / Grizzly Bears, North Cascades, Restoring Wildlife

Despite public support and scientific recommendation, Secretary of the Interior stops work on North Cascades grizzly restoration.

Send your Members of Congress a message saying you support grizzly recovery in the North Cascades guided by science and community input.


As you may have seen reported in The Seattle Times, Bloomberg, NW Public Radio and local news, yesterday, the Trump Administration’s Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt issued an order “terminating” the North Cascades Grizzly Bear Restoration Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), a scientific study and public process underway since 2014.

We’re disappointed by this decision, and the lack of transparency around it, but we’re not giving up on North Cascades grizzly bear recovery. We believe the Endangered Species Act will prevail in the end.

Given their isolation from other grizzly populations, the low number of bears, their very slow reproductive rate and other constraints, the North Cascades grizzly bear population is considered the most at-risk bear population in the United States. Photo: Jeremy Williams

Restoring grizzly bears to the backcountry in and around North Cascades National Park was one of the first campaigns I worked on when I joined Conservation Northwest about the time the EIS got underway. I attended the first agency meeting in Winthrop, and many events since from Bellingham to Seattle, Sultan to Leavenworth and Cle Elum. At each I heard folks asking good questions, sharing thoughtful feedback, and expressing support for a careful process to restore this native species guided by science and community input.

As someone who grew up in the Cascade foothills hiking, backpacking, climbing and hunting, including in bear country, I see this effort as a historic conservation opportunity to right a tragic wrong—recovering a native species humans drove to the brink of local extinction, and restoring a missing piece of the Northwest natural heritage we Washingtonians so value.

Seea how grizzly restoration would work in the video Time for the Grizzly? by our friend, filmmaker and ecologist Chris Morgan.

I spend dozens of days every year in the North Cascades, and have had grizzly run-ins in Montana and Alaska. I empathize with concerns about how to share the wilderness with the grizz. But these states and others prove that with some straightforward “Bear Aware” precautions, hikers, campers, hunters, ranchers and others can safely coexist with grizzly bears in our wildlands, just as we do with black bears and other native wildlife.

I want to live, work and recreate in wild landscapes where native wildlife roam, and believe the presence of grizzly bears enhances our wilderness experience, a sentiment shared by many other outdoor leaders. At nearly 10,000 square miles of contiguous public land, the North Cascades is as wild and rugged country as any in the Lower 48, and has been home to grizzlies for some 20,000 years. If we can’t share this place with the Great Bear, what does that say about us?

North Cascades National Park and surrounding backcountry areas also receive far fewer visitors than places like Yellowstone or Glacier national parks, and science shows there is excellent bear habitat here, so we know grizzly recovery and coexistence are possible.

My colleague Joe Scott’s history with this effort goes back much longer than mine. Our International Programs Director, Joe has been leading grizzly recovery programs in Washington state and British Columbia since the early 1990’s. Grizzly bears are accepted and recovery actions welcomed in many of the rural areas of B.C. where Joe works with landowners, recreationists and First Nations. If our neighbors up north can coexist with grizzly bears, why can’t we?

In 1997, Joe and Conservation Northwest pushed successfully for the North Cascades Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan chapter completed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). A plan for this federally-designated Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone is required by the Endangered Species Act, and the science is clear that restoration is essential for recovery as the North Cascades are isolated from other grizzly bear populations further north in Canada and to the east in northeast Washington’s Selkirks and the Rocky Mountains.

What’s standing in the way are misinformation, fear and political meddling. We believe science, truth and the law can overcome these challenges.

We’ve been in this fight for 30 years, and we’re not giving up now.

Read perspectives from Joe Scott in this 2018 op-ed for the Seattle Times, or this 2015 Pacific Northwest Magazine cover story by Ron Judd.
North Cascades grizzly bear habitat near North Cascades National Park. Photo: Dr. Robert Long, Woodlands Park Zoo

Local support, and a lack of transparency

We’re concerned about the secrecy leading up to yesterday’s decision by the Department of the Interior, and its departure from the years-long public process led by the National Park Service and USFWS that consistently documented strong public support for grizzly bear restoration guided by science and community input, including more than 130,000 supportive comments (out of 143,000 total!), resolutions from Native American tribes, and testimonials from regional leaders.

Local residents have spoken up at events, and public polling and past comment periods have consistently shown that roughly 80 percent of respondents support grizzly bear restoration in and around North Cascades National Park, including residents on both sides of the Cascade Crest.

“Representative Dan Newhouse is ignoring a large majority of his constituents who support grizzly bear recovery, many of whom who live in the heart of the proposed recovery area. Instead he is cutting back room deals serving only a small portion of special interests,” said our friend Jasmine Minbashian, Executive Director of Methow Valley Citizens Council and a former Conservation Northwest staffer. “He can do better than this. The proposed restoration plan is a modest plan that would give grizzly bears a chance at survival in their native home – the North Cascades.”

Given their isolation from other grizzly populations, the low number of bears, their very slow reproductive rate and other constraints, the North Cascades grizzly bear population is considered the most at-risk bear population in the United States.

A grizzly bear mother and cubs in central British Columbia. Photo: Jeremy Williams

Our friends at the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) agree, as do other partners we’ve collaborated with for years through the Friends of the North Cascades Grizzly Bear coalition:

“This purely political decision ignores science, Park Service recommendations and overwhelming public support and instead threatens the survival of one of the nation’s most famous wild creatures,” said Rob Smith, Northwest Regional Director for the NPCA. “This enormously disappointing decision is the latest flip-flop away from conservation by this administration, which under Secretary Ryan Zinke supported grizzly recovery efforts. We will continue to work with community members to advocate for the reintroduction of grizzly bears.”

“The Trump Administration has broken its promise to reintroduce North Cascades grizzly bears despite ample public support,” said Robb Krehbiel, Northwest Representative for Defenders of Wildlife. “Former Interior Secretary Zinke, one of President Trump’s own appointees, committed to return grizzlies to the North Cascades, yet the administration continues to let politics get in the way.”

“This announcement is disappointing—so much science and public engagement over the past decade supports recovery of this important species,” said Dr. Robert Long, Director of Woodland Park Zoo’s Living Northwest Program. “People of Washington deserve to live in a state with complete and intact ecosystems, and this includes our important large carnivores.”

Federal grizzly bear recovery plans, as mandated by the Endangered Species Act, require grizzly recovery in the North Cascades—it’s the largest federally-designated Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone and the only such zone outside the Rocky Mountains.

Chase in Alaska bear country (bear spray just out of frame!).

Bringing a small number of bears into North Cascades National Park and adjacent wilderness to boost their population is the only way to fulfil this mandate. Unassisted or “natural” recovery has simply not worked, and does not meet federal grizzly recovery requirements. Nor does it adequately support the health of the North Cascades Ecosystem or the restoration of our Northwest natural heritage.

Despite yesterday’s news from the Trump Administration, we believe grizzly bears will eventually be restored to the wilderness of the North Cascades, their home for thousands of years, as action is legally required, and public support remains strong.

Thank you for your support over this long and winding campaign. We’re not done yet.

For the grizzly, and the wild North Cascades,

Chase Gunnell
Communications Director


Learn more about work for grizzly bear recovery on our webpage or at
Grizzly bears in central British Columbia. Photo: Jeremy Williams