This grizzly bear was photographed near the East gate of Manning Park, British Columbia in 2015. (John Ashley-Pryce/National Park Service)

This grizzly bear was photographed near the East gate of Manning Park, British Columbia in 2015. (John Ashley-Pryce/National Park Service)

New study confirms historical presence of grizzlies in Washington

The federal government hopes to rebuild a dwindling Washington grizzly population.

Until the last 200 years, the mighty grizzly bear used to roam across Washington state, according to a new study conducted by federal wildlife agencies.

A report jointly published by the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife studied archaeological, ethnographic and incidental evidence, which determined the bears’ historic territory. Grizzly bear populations declined across North America over the last century due to extensive hunting, trapping, predator control and habitat loss and by 1970 they only remained in around 2 percent of their former range within the lower 48 states.

In 1975 the bears were listed as federally threatened and a recovery plan was hatched. Six recovery zones were created, including one in the north Cascades, which stretches from hundreds of miles into British Columbia down to the eastern portion of King County and central Washington. Over the last decade there have been only a handful of confirmed grizzly sightings and a low density population in northeast Washington. Due to a low density, a slow reproductive rate and isolation from other populations, it is unlikely that the bears will recover on their own.

Compounding this is a Washington state law that bars state money from going towards grizzly restoration, said Penny Becker, agency lead for grizzly bear reintroduction for the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“Our state law says that we can’t bring in bears from other places,” she said.

This means that the restoration project will need to be conducted entirely by federal wildlife agencies. As part of a restoration plan they set out to document the historical range of the grizzly bears in Washington state.

Estimates of historical grizzly distribution have been uncertain and many previous surveys hinged on data from the Hudson’s Bay Company fur records, which documented hundreds of pelts coming from the area in the 1800s. However, it was unclear where the bears were actually harvested within the region.

In the federal report, one of the areas explored were bear fossils dating from between 12,000 and 850 BP (before present). This included bones found in human hunting sites and food remains. There was also evidence of the bears holding cultural significance withing the traditions of First Nations groups. Many Salish groups that were surveyed who lived in the north Cascades and other regions of the state suggest that the bears were integrated into cultural and hunting traditions. This was mainly due to the bears being killed in defense, either of food of life, as opposed them being hunted as a standard game animal. But even this points to the bear having a wide range in the state.

The report said evidence confirms the prehistoric grizzly bears roamed in lowland regions surrounding the north Cascades. More modern observations also show that the bears that currently exist, largely easy of the mountain’s crests, prefer to live in open habitat or among white-bark pine trees, though it is not know what attracts them to the clumps of trees.

But around 200 years ago, the bear population started declining. The report said that of all the pressures faced by the bears, human population growth and density is likely the most influential factor. This stems again from the bears’ low reproductive rate and human development like cities and roads that isolated and broke up suitable grizzly habitat from other areas.

The 2017 Draft Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan also drafted by the federal government lays out three ways to bring the bears back to the state, including a no-action alternative that would have little effect. All of the plans seek to restore a 200-bear population to the zone in British Columbia and Washington state by releasing varying amounts at various times. The most dramatic would capture bears and release nearly 170 of them around the same time with a goal of full restoration within 25 years. The other two would release smaller amounts of bears with a timeline allowing up to 100 years for a full 200-bear restoration.

While Becker said the state cannot directly introduce bears to the state, they will help monitor and manage them.

“Once bears are in Washington state, they’re a Washington bear,” she said.

Aaron Kunkler is a reporter for Sound Publishing’s eastside newspapers.

Talk to us

More in Northwest

FILE - In this Feb. 1, 2019, file photo, Bill and Melinda French Gates pose together in Kirkland, Wash.  The divorce of Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates has been finalized. The Microsoft co-founder and his wife announced in May 2021 they were ending their 27-year marriage and on Monday, Aug. 2,  a King County Superior Court judge signed the dissolution decree. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates finalize their divorce

The two have said they will continue to work together as co-chairs of their foundation.

Washington hospitals ‘quite full’ amid surge in COVID-19 cases

The unvaccinated continue to make up nearly all of the new cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Wildfire burning in North Cascades park near Canadian border

The Bear Creek Fire is estimated to have burned about 150 acres.

Southern Resident orca near Washington state presumed dead

The cause of death for the pod’s oldest male, known as Cappuccino or K21, is still undetermined.

A group of candidates in the race for Mayor of Seattle takes part in a forum focused on arts and culture, Thursday, July 22, 2021 at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in Seattle. The city's mayoral primary election will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 3. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times via AP)
Seattle mayoral primary will be test of progressive movement

Policing, equity, disorder and homelessness are animating Tuesday’s election in the Emerald City.

Woman pleads guilty to terror charge in train track incident

She and another are accused of putting a shunt on railroad tracks near Bellingham.

Smoke triggers pollution alerts in US West, Midwest

Alerts were in place across portions of Colorado, Wyoming, Washington state and Idaho.

Diver’s body found near West Seattle site woman went missing

The Seattle Fire Department said private divers recovered the body at Seacrest Cove.

President Joe Biden holds up a map of wildfires in Washington state as he speaks with governors about ongoing efforts to strengthen wildfire prevention, preparedness and response efforts, and hear firsthand about the ongoing impacts of the 2021 wildfire season in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus in Washington, Friday, July 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Biden sees shortages to stop climate-change fueled wildfires

The president credited Gov. Jay Inslee with convincing people “there is a thing called climate crisis.”

COVID-19 contact tracers make phone calls and log potential exposures at the Umatilla County Public Health center in Pendleton, Ore., on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. In tiny Umatilla County in northeastern Oregon, contact tracers work out of a converted jail to try to stem the spread of COVID-19 as new cases surge in the rural West and elsewhere. (AP Photo/Ben Lonergan)
COVID-19 surge straining Eastern Oregon hospitals

Umatilla County has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Oregon, according to the CDC.

Rat
A brief history of rats in the Puget Sound region

The adaptable scavengers can sustain themselves by exploiting the sloppy habits of people.

King County Executive Dow Constantine signs an order July 28 to restart inquests into deaths that involved police officers. COURTESY PHOTO, King County
King County to restart inquests into killings by police

The cases include shootings by Kent, Auburn, Federal Way and Kirkland officers.