Feds eye grizzly reintroduction in North Cascades

Draft plan posted for public comment

A grizzly boar on the Brooks River in Alaska. Photo by Kim Fenske.
A grizzly boar on the Brooks River in Alaska. Photo by Kim Fenske.
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Re-establishing a self-sustaining population of grizzlies in the North Cascades ecosystem could help reach overall recovery goals for the predators, which have been on the endangered species list since 1975.

Staff Report

Federal biologists say they can boost the population of grizzly bears in the North Cascades ecosystem by relocating the predators from other areas. The National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week released a draft plan (open for public comment), for increasing the total number of bears in the region to 200. Bt current estimates, only about 10 remain, too small a population to sustain itself. According to the draft plan, grizzly bears could be relocated from either northwestern Montana or south-central British Columbia.

“We’re happy to see the agencies taking a step in the right direction to restore grizzly bears to the North Cascades,” said Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Without a helping hand, grizzly bears are likely to disappear from the Pacific Northwest.”

Grizzlies have been on the endangered species list since 1975. The area under study is about 9,500 square miles of relatively wild territory, including North Cascades National park and surrounding national forest lands, with excellent grizzly habitat.

“Grizzly bears belong in the North Cascades,” said Santarsiere. “By bringing bears back to this great, wild place, we right a historic wrong and help restore a beautiful landscape to its former glory.”

According to the Center, grizzly bears once ranged  from Alaska to Mexico, with an estimated 50,000 bears occupying the western half of the contiguous United States. Humans all but wiped them out in the lower 48, with about 1,500 to 1,800 remaining in a few scattered populations in the northern Rockies and North Cascades, which is one of six primary recovery areas identified by the USFWS.

In releasing the DEIS today, the agencies encouraged the public to offer input through a series of open houses or written comments on the document, due March 14. More information on the open houses can be found here.

The agencies are considering a few different options, including releasing up to 10 grizzlies in two years, while monitoring interaction with humans during that time. Another alternative is to release up to 25 nears over the course of 10 years, while the ‘expedited restoration” option would mean releasing enough bears to reach the 200 target within 25 years. The reintroduction could also be planned under a section of the Endangered Species Act that allows for experimental populations, with fewer restrictions.

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