Grizzlies could return to Washington
Are grizzly bears a step closer to returning to the North Cascades? The reintroduction plan is still going strong with an anticipated draft of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) released in June. If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) gets its way, grizzlies will once again roam Washington, the Yakima Herald-Republic reports.
The EIS was nearly complete in 2020 when it was tabled without further explanation by the Trump administration. However, the new EIS “should allow for more flexibility for federal officials…to slowly build back a population” that was nearly extinct in the area, according to Jason Ransom, North Cascades National Park wildlife supervisor. This change could help garner support for the initiative from those who are concerned reintroduced grizzlies could impact livestock and humans recreating in the North Cascades.
“We did reach out to all the congressional representatives in Washington,” said Ransom. “We’ve briefed all of them once. Right now everybody’s just waiting on the draft EIS that has the real specific plans.”
The current proposal calls for the introduction of three to seven bears over five to 10 years with an overall population objective of 25, according to the Yakima Herald-Republic. Once that goal is met, more grizzlies would be released to achieve a population of 200 grizzlies over the next 60 to 100 years.
The final EIS will be available in spring 2024 and will be open to public comment. To date, over 132,000 pieces of correspondence have been received with regard to the proposed reintroduction efforts with both supporters and opponents, which include U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Sunnyside).
“My constituents and I have consistently opposed proposals to (introduce grizzly bears into the North Cascades) under multiple administrations because introducing an apex predator to the area would threaten the families, wildlife and livestock of North Central Washington,” said Newhouse in a statement in November. “I strongly encourage the people of Central Washington to attend the virtual meetings in order to voice their opinion and put this misguided proposal to rest, once and for all.”
However, Conservation Northwest International Programs Director Joe Scott it’s been a long and rocky road to get to this point.
“Restoring bears from near zero is quite a difficult task and I don’t think people really understand how difficult it is,” said Scott. “The animals suitable for translocations to a place like the Cascades, it’s a small set of animals out there.”
Discussions with the Colville Tribe as well as local landowners and agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will continue as FWS moves ahead with reintroduction efforts.