WENATCHEE, Wash. — The National Park Service apparently is shutting down its efforts to reintroduce grizzly bears into the North Cascades Ecosystem.
Conservation Northwest, a regional conservation organization strongly supportive of grizzly bear recovery, issued a new release, Dec. 18, lamenting what it said was a stop work order announced Dec. 13 at an Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee meeting in Missoula, Mont. The Missoulian newspaper reported that North Cascades National Park Superintendent Karen Taylor-Goodrich said at the meeting that her staff had been asked to stop work on its environmental impact statement for grizzly bear recovery by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s office.
Taylor-Goodrich could not be reached for direct comment and no statement was issued by Interior. Taylor-Goodrich reportedly said the order also stalls discussions with Canadian wildlife managers who oversee similar grizzly recovery in British Columbia.
The North Cascades Ecosystem encompasses 9,800 square miles in the U.S. and 3,800 square miles in British Columbia. The U.S. portion is generally the Cascades from Wenatchee northward. It includes North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
The North Cascades National Park staff is in the third year of a public process and was evaluating 127,000 public comments on a draft environmental impact statement. That statement includes a no-action alternative and three alternatives to restore a reproducing population of about 200 bears by bringing bears in from other areas.
Restoring grizzlies would “enhance the probability of longterm survival and conservation of grizzly bears in the contiguous United States thereby contributing to overall grizzly bear recovery and greater biodiversity of the ecosystem,” the NPS and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have said.
Grizzlies were listed as a threatened species in the contiguous U.S. in 1975. They were listed as endangered in Washington in 1980.
U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, whose 4th Congressional District encompasses part of the North Cascades, strongly opposed the plan.
Jim DeTro, an Okanogan County commissioner opposed to the plan, said Taylor-Goodrich’s announcement is good news. He said he had heard at a National Association of Counties meeting in Sunriver, Ore., in May that such a decision would be forthcoming.
Okanogan County ranchers already coping with coyotes, cougars and wolves said they didn’t need another apex predator killing and harassing their cattle.
“Yes, ranchers in the Okanogan will be happy but the opposition had bipartisan support. Even hikers and people on the green side said the North Cascades was no place for this,” DeTro said.
A group in the small Western Washington town of Darrington opposed the plan saying it would hurt tourism, hiking and be bad for general safety since there are fewer meadows, berries and no wild bees, elk nor bison for the bears. The draft plan would close more roads to hiking which would be bad for tourism, members of the Darrington Area Resource Advocates have said. The group includes residents, representatives of the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe, Hampton Lumber Mill, business owners and backcountry horsemen. “Many years of science, public education and significant taxpayer dollars have gone into grizzly bear recovery in our region and are not being taken seriously by this administration,” said Chase Gunnell, Conservation Northwest spokesman.
The vast majority of the 127,000 comments received were supportive of recovery and Conservation Northwest urges work to continue, he said.