Feds Have Big Plans for Bears in Washington

Project hopes to see 200 bears in Northern Cascades within century via new project
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 29, 2024 9:45 AM CDT
Grizzlies Will Catch a Chopper to Help Repopulate Washington State
We could soon see more of this in the North Cascades.   (Getty Images/LuCaAr)

The state of Washington will soon be getting a little grizzlier. NBC News reports that, per a "joint record of decision," the National Park Service and US Fish & Wildlife Department "have decided to actively restore grizzly bears to the North Cascades of Washington, where the animals once roamed." More:

  • Mission: The federal agencies say their intent is to put together a "founder population" of the ursine species of about two dozen or so bears over the next decade or so, with the bears set free in far-flung parts of the Evergreen State. The ultimate goal is to achieve a population of 200 bears within 60 to 100 years.

  • History: The North Cascades used to be replete with grizzlies, but they were subsequently overhunted for their fur, leading to thousands of bear deaths. The NPS notes that bears haven't been reliably spotted there in nearly 30 years.
  • Pros: Conservation experts say that bears are good for the overall ecosystem, as they mix up soil and help move seeds around. Bears are also expected to do relatively well as climate change continues to create environmental changes. "They can be one of the climate change survivors," Jason Ransom, a wildlife biologist at North Cascades National Park, tells NBC. "Putting back a species like that builds resilience in an ecosystem in the face of change."
  • Cons: Critics say the bears could end up posing a risk to humans in the area, as well as to local livestock. "We're busy dealing with wolves. We don't need to be thinking about bears," one rancher tells NBC.
  • The bears: They'd come from British Columbia or the Rocky Mountains in Montana. The AP notes the transplant bears would be taken only from areas with healthy bear populations.
  • Schedule: It's a complicated project that will involve trapping the bears, then trucking and transporting them by helicopter to Washington's mountains. Therefore, it's not clear exactly when things will start moving. "There's a lot to be done before we could even come up with a timeline," Ransom tells NBC. "For a project like this to be successful, it's really important you get the planning right."
(More grizzly bear stories.)

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