Grizzlies Were Wiped Out Here. Feds Want Them Back

Effort to reintroduce bears to Washington's North Cascades begins again
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 13, 2022 9:35 AM CST
Grizzlies Were Wiped Out Here. Feds Want Them Back
In this July 6, 2011, photo, a grizzly bear roams near Beaver Lake in Yellowstone National Park, Wyo.   (AP Photo/Jim Urquhart, File)

A controversial campaign to increase the number of grizzly bears in Washington state, specifically in prime habitat areas where a viable population has long been absent, has been renewed. Environmental groups applauded Thursday's announcement that the National Park Service and the US Forest Service had initiated a first step of the process to reintroduce the bears to the North Cascades, an area of more than 9,500 square miles in the northwestern part of the state, where there hasn't been a confirmed sighting of a grizzly since 1996, per Fox News. The goal is "bringing balance back to the ecosystem and restoring a piece of the Pacific Northwest’s natural and cultural heritage," says Don Striker, superintendent of North Cascades National Park, per NBC News.

The region is "one of the largest wilderness areas in the Lower 48," with "lots of real estate for bears to occupy," says Jason Ransom, who leads the park's wildlife program. For millennia, grizzlies were "a critical part of the ecosystem, turning soil as they dug for roots, eating berries and distributing the seeds in their scat, and keeping small animal populations in check" before they were essentially killed off by hunters, reports the Seattle Times. On the path to reintroduction, an environmental impact assessment was begun in 2015 but scrapped under the Trump administration in 2017. It was then revived in 2019 and shuttered again in 2020, at which point the Center for Biological Diversity sued the federal government.

The center's Andrea Zaccardi says the organization, whose lawsuit is ongoing, is "pleasantly surprised" by the proposal but predicts "a very long road" ahead, to begin with public input. The hope is three to seven bears captured from British Columbia or northwest Montana can be reintroduced annually over five to 10 years, allowing the population to reach 25 within a decade and 200 within a century. But Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Washington Republican, has already expressed opposition, arguing the plan "would threaten the families, wildlife, and livestock of North Central Washington." Joe Scott of Conservation Northwest counters that "with science, education and a little human tolerance it can be one of the greatest conservation success stories of ours and future generations." (More grizzly bear stories.)

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