DARRINGTON — Plans to help increase the grizzly bear population in the North Cascades ecosystem have been halted.
The U.S. Department of the Interior reportedly ordered that work be stopped on a key planning document — the environmental impact statement for the grizzly restoration project.
North Cascades National Park Superintendent Karen Taylor-Goodrich announced the order to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee last week, according to The Missoulian.
Work to restore grizzlies in the North Cascades has been planned for decades. Earlier this year, the National Park and U.S. Fish and Wildlife services released a draft plan and environmental impact statement. The document presented possibilities for boosting the grizzly population from the handful that might be living in the North Cascades today to as many as 200 bears in the coming decades. Three proposals call for bringing in bears from elsewhere. A fourth would focus on improving habitat, but would not introduce new bears.
An extended public comment period sparked tens of thousands of responses. Meetings drew hundreds of people, including a large crowd in Darrington. Officials have been reviewing feedback and working on a final document.
The North Cascades cover 9,800 square miles in Washington, including much of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. The idea of increasing the grizzly population has received mixed responses locally. There has been backlash from people who live in communities that border the wilderness. A group in Darrington favored restoring habitat but opposed the introduction of new bears, citing safety concerns and potential effects on outdoor industries.
State Rep. Carolyn Eslick, R-Sultan, is pushing for legislation that would require the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to hold a public hearing and alert elected leaders before any attempt is made to relocate wildlife.
Supporters of grizzly restoration note that the bears shaped the landscape for thousands of years before being pushed to the brink of local extinction.
The nonprofit Conservation Northwest issued a written statement Monday expressing frustration with the order to stop restoration work.
“We are extremely disappointed that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the Trump Administration are abandoning North Cascades grizzly bears,” spokesman Chase Gunnell said.
Years of research and outreach, along with public money, have gone into grizzly recovery efforts, he said. That work should be taken seriously by the administration, Gunnell said.
The Draft Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan and Environmental Impact Statement is online at parkplanning.nps.gov/grizzlydeis.
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.