Grizzlies May Thrive at National Park Once Again

But some groups oppose plans to repopulate the North Cascades
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 12, 2023 1:25 PM CST
US Plans to Bring Grizzlies Back to National Park
A grizzly bear roams near Beaver Lake in Yellowstone National Park.   (AP Photo/Jim Urquhart, File)

Washington state's North Cascades National Park was once home to grizzly bears, until hunting them for hides wiped out the entire population. Federal agencies have now drafted a plan to reintroduce them to that land, according to the Washington Post, but not everyone is happy about it. The plan includes three scenarios: reintroduce them as an experimental population, reintroduce them without the experimental designation, or keep things the same. Grizzlies were designated as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1975, and the last time one was spotted in the North Cascades was 1996. The plans to reintroduce them involve relocating five to seven bears to the area at a time, until a population of 25 is established. From there, the bears would hopefully reach a population of 200 in a century.

A similar plan set in motion was squashed during the Trump administration, as some fear their interaction with humans and livestock. The Cascadia Daily News summarized the discourse as "firmly entrenched," at a hearing in Newhalem this month. "Our vote should count more than somebody in King County or somebody outside of our county," said the Skagit County Farm Bureau president during public comments. "If they want the bears, put them down in Seattle parks." Brenda Cunningham, a retired state biologist, called citing safety as a reason to keep the bears out as "selfish." "So many people have become unwilling to share even the remotest places on Earth with other creatures," she noted. "The ecosystems we depend upon are breaking down because of this."

So how do grizzlies affect North Cascades' ecosystem? Wayne Kasworm of the US Fish & Wildlife Service noted that bears' natural interactions with the forest help it thrive. Grizzlies' digging aerates soil, and their omnivorous diet helps disperse seeds and clean up the forest. The National Parks Conservation Association has come out in support of reintroducing grizzly bears, along with local Native American representatives. "We feel this inherent hereditary need to protect the creatures in the environment and speak for them, and in particular the ones that have been lost," Scott Schuyler of the Upper Skagit Tribe tells the Post, adding that colonization adversely affected his ancestors alongside the grizzly. "The grizzly bear's survival is, in a sense, the survival of our culture, our history." (An unusual grizzly problem: being tipsy near railroad tracks.)

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