After Nearly Being Hunted To Extinction, Grizzly Bears May Return To The North Cascades In Washington

Last week, the National Park Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced the initiation of a new Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process to evaluate options for restoring grizzly bears to the North Cascades of Washington, where the animals once thrived.

The EIS process will identify a range of alternatives for restoring the bears to the mountainous region to support the recovery and eventual delisting of grizzly bears under the Endangered Species Act in the contiguous United States.

Grizzly bears once roamed across the North Cascades for thousands of years as an essential part of the ecosystem, distributing native plant seeds and keeping other wildlife populations in balance. Tragically, in the 20th century, humans nearly hunted them to extinction. The last confirmed sighting of a grizzly bear in the U.S. portion of the North Cascades Ecosystem was in 1996.

“This is a first step toward bringing balance back to the ecosystem and restoring a piece of the Pacific Northwest’s natural and cultural heritage,” said Superintendent Don Striker of North Cascades National Park. “With the public’s help we will evaluate a list of options to determine the best path forward.”

The North Cascades Ecosystem is one of only two grizzly recovery areas without an established population of bears, and due to its relative distance and isolation from other zones it would not likely be repopulated from natural bear migration.

A previous EIS process for the restoration of grizzly bears in the ecosystem was terminated by the Department of Interior in 2020. This announcement marks the start of a completely new process to evaluate alternatives.

“The bottom line is that even with a recovered North Cascades grizzly bear population these consummate icons of wild habitats will have been driven out of 97% of their former range in the contiguous U.S. through persecution, habitat destruction, and sheer short-sightedness,“ said Rob Smith, Northwest Director with the National Parks Conservation Association. “We now have a rare opportunity to redress these wrongs and bestow a huge conservation legacy to our children.”

Public comments and participation in the process are important elements to assess potential impacts and identify a preferred alternative. Numerous virtual public meetings will be held in Novemberand December during which people are encouraged to participate. The public is invited to submit comments and find additional information, HERE!

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