In this undated photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a grizzly bear just north of the National Elk Refuge in Grand Teton National Park, Wyo. (Joe Lieb/USFWS via AP)

In this undated photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a grizzly bear just north of the National Elk Refuge in Grand Teton National Park, Wyo. (Joe Lieb/USFWS via AP)

Snohomish County partners with feds on North Cascades grizzly plan

The County Council approved an agreement under which local officials will provide input on any plan to reintroduce grizzly bears.

EVERETT — Snohomish County has joined federal agencies as they explore the idea of reintroducing grizzly bears to the North Cascades.

Last week, the Snohomish County Council approved a memorandum of understanding between the county’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Snohomish County officials are expected to provide input on the agencies’ draft Environmental Impact Statement, according to the memorandum.

“Snohomish County is a cooperating agency in this planning process and is recognized to have expertise in the following areas: social and economic conditions, recreation and tourism, county government services and funding needs and sources,” said Tom Teigen, the county’s director of conservation and natural resources, in an email.

The draft Environmental Impact Statement published in September outlined three options:

• not releasing any grizzly bears;

• releasing three to seven bears every five to 10 years, until the ecosystem reaches a population of 25, with the ultimate goal of 200 bears a century from now;

• or releasing the same amount of bears with special protection under Endangered Species Act section 10(j).

The 10(j) rule would give wildlife and land managers, as well as local communities, more options for managing grizzly bears. Officials could use “deterrence, relocation or removal” as tools to handle bears from the North Cascades population that are involved in conflict.

The public was able to comment on the plan from Sept. 28 to Nov. 13. Staff from the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife hosted meetings in Darrington, Okanogan, Newhalem and Winthrop, where residents voiced their opinions on the proposal to reintroduce grizzlies.

At the Nov. 2 meeting in Darrington, most attendees were opposed to the idea, noting concerns about how the bears may affect recreation opportunities and threatened salmon populations.

Biologists said grizzlies brought to Washington will not know how to fish or look for salmon. And scientists estimate the process to establish a stable grizzly population in the North Cascades will take at least 40 years.

Federal agencies plan to release a final Environmental Impact Statement for grizzly bear restoration in Washington in early spring.

Ta’Leah Van Sistine: 425-339-3460; taleah.vansistine@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @TaLeahRoseV.

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