Thursday, June 20, 2024

Grizzly Bears to return to North Cascades Ecosystem

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SEDRO-WOOLEY - The National Park Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service have announced their decision to actively restore grizzly bears to the North Cascades region of Washington, where the animals once thrived for thousands of years. The last confirmed sighting of a grizzly bear in the U.S. portion of the North Cascades ecosystem was in 1996, and populations have declined primarily due to direct killing by humans.

The decision, outlined in the recently released Record of Decision, aims to restore grizzly bears to the ecosystem through the translocation of three to seven bears per year from other ecosystems in the Rocky Mountains or interior British Columbia. The goal is to establish an initial population of 25 bears over a period of five to 10 years.

"We are going to once again see grizzly bears on the landscape, restoring an important thread in the fabric of the North Cascades," said Don Striker, Superintendent of North Cascades National Park Service Complex.

The U.S. portion of the North Cascades ecosystem spans roughly 9,800 square miles, an area larger than the state of New Jersey, and contains some of the most intact wildlands in the contiguous U.S. Approximately 85% of the mountainous region is under federal management.

Under the decision, grizzly bears in the North Cascades will be designated as a nonessential experimental population under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act. This designation provides authorities and land managers with additional management tools that would not otherwise be available under existing Endangered Species Act regulations.

"The final 10(j) rule is based on extensive community engagement and conversations about how the return of a grizzly bear population in the North Cascades will be actively managed to address concerns about human safety, property and livestock, and grizzly bear recovery," said Brad Thompson, State Supervisor for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. "It provides an expanded set of management tools in recognition that grizzly bear recovery in the North Cascades is dependent on community tolerance of grizzly bears."

Public feedback played a crucial role in the decision-making process. During the fall 2023 public comment period, more than 12,000 comments were received on both the draft Environmental Impact Statement and the proposed 10(j) rule.

The National Park Service has not yet set a timeline for when the translocation of grizzly bears to the ecosystem may begin. Updates will be published on the park website, and partners and the public will be notified of implementation plans as they develop.

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