Federal Government Resumes Grizzly Bear Restoration Study in North Cascades Ecosystem

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Environmental groups on Thursday welcomed the Biden administration’s decision to resume consideration of whether grizzly bears should be restored to Washington state’s remote North Cascades ecosystem.

The National Park Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service said they would jointly prepare an environmental impact statement on restoring endangered bears in the North Cascades.

Hunters killed the bears from the ecosystem long ago and restoring them will aid the overall recovery of endangered animals in the Northwest, the agencies said.

“This negates the Trump administration’s hasty termination of these plans,” said Andrea Zaccardi of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Without a helping hand, grizzly bears are in danger of disappearing from the Pacific Northwest.”

Agencies began a study on restoring grizzly bears in the North Cascades through a trapping and relocation process in 2015. But in 2020, the Trump administration ended the process without explanation. The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit challenging the dismissal in federal court in the District of Columbia.

The North Cascades is one of the largest wilderness areas in the lower 48 states, covering over 9,500 square miles centered on North Cascades National Park. It also includes large areas of surrounding state forest.

Other conservation groups also welcomed the decision.

“For too long, the North Cascades have missed an integral part of their unique ecosystem,” said Kathleen Callaghy of Defenders of Wildlife. “The return of the grizzlies will finally make this incredible desert whole again.”

The environmental impact assessment process will include an opportunity for public comment.

“We are cautiously optimistic that this process will lead to a decision on how to successfully restore grizzly bears in the North Cascades through sound science and strong public involvement,” said Gordon Congdon, a retired fruit grower at near Wenatchee, Washington.

The North Cascades ecosystem is one of only two grizzly bear recovery areas without an established bear population, and due to its relative distance and isolation from other areas, it would likely not be repopulated from natural bear migration, environmental groups said.

“We know how to successfully move bears to new places and we know how to live with them safely,” said Chris Servheen, who retired in 2016 after 35 years as grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and continues to advocate for the recovery of grizzly bears.

According to the proposal, the two agencies would capture grizzly bears in British Columbia or in the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem in the Rocky Mountains. About three to seven grizzlies would be released in the North Cascades every year for about five to ten years.

–The Associated Press

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