DARRINGTON — This town had double or triple the turn-out of any other community where the National Park Service and U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife stopped in last month.
Officials were looking for questions and concerns about proposals to potentially reintroduce grizzly bears to the North Cascades ecosystem. More than 300 people came to a public meeting in Darrington, one of eight such events around Western Washington last month. One of the other meetings was in Sultan and drew 88 people. All total, more than 1,200 people showed up for the meetings.
After getting feedback from the public and from local leaders, the park service and Fish and Wildlife have decided to extend the time people have to submit comments about the grizzly bear planning efforts. The document, available for review online, is called the North Cascades Ecosystem Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan and Environmental Impact Statement. The comment period would have closed this week but now is open until April 28.
The draft plan includes four options for grizzly bear recovery. Three would bring bears in from elsewhere to bolster the local population. The goal would be to reach 200 bears. A fourth proposal calls for continuing current efforts to keep habitat healthy, but would not bring in additional bears.
Grizzlies were listed as a threatened species in the U.S. in 1975 and as endangered in Washington in 1980. Now, scientists do not have enough evidence to say there is a population at all in the North Cascades ecosystem, which covers about 9,800 square miles in Washington and 3,800 in British Columbia. There have been four confirmed reports of grizzlies there over the past decade. It may have been the same two bears spotted multiple times.
There have been a mix of responses thus far to the plan. Some people are in favor of bringing back grizzlies while others support the habitat restoration but not the introduction of new bears.
“There were people on both ends of the spectrum, and lots of people in the middle,” said Denise Shultz, chief of interpretation and education at the North Cascades National Park Service Complex.
The main concerns people shared were personal safety in the wilderness and protection of livestock and people who live in communities that border the North Cascades, Shultz said. People also worried about potentially limited access to areas where grizzlies might roam and what the presence of the bears could mean for outdoor-based industries such as logging, mining or tourism. In Darrington, there has been a focus on rejuvenating tourism and timber harvests.
The most useful comments for planning are ones that address any needs for additional research or recovery options. Comments that simply say someone is in favor of or against the reintroduction of grizzlies don’t give planners a lot to work with, Shultz said.
Matthew Inman, who creates online comics under the name “The Oatmeal” and lives in Seattle, is using his humorous platform to ask people to weigh in on the grizzly restoration plans. He urges them to support an option that would incrementally restore grizzlies by bringing them in from other areas and monitoring the population’s progress.
After April 28, the team working on the grizzly plan expects to review the feedback and gather any more information they need. It likely will take about a year to finish getting through everything and addressing the questions or concerns, Shultz said. Then the parks service and Fish and Wildlife can make a decision on which option from the draft plan should be turned into a final plan. That document is expected to guide grizzly bear recovery efforts for decades.
People can read through the plan and submit comments online at parkplanning.nps.gov/grizzlydeis. Comments also can be mailed or hand delivered to the superintendent’s office in the North Cascades National Park Service Complex, 810 State Route 20, Sedro Woolley, WA 98284.
Anyone who might later want to formally object to the plan under federal guidelines must weigh in during the official comment period to be eligible to file an objection.
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.