The National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) today announced the reopening of the public comment period for the draft North Cascades Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) regarding restoring grizzly bears to their historic range in the North Cascades Ecosystem. The 90-day extension begins Friday and will close on October 24, 2019.
Robb Krehbiel, Northwest Representative for Defenders of Wildlife, issued this statement:
“We are pleased to see recovery efforts for grizzly bears in the North Cascades get back on track. More than 126,000 people weighed in on the plan to bring grizzlies back to the Cascades, and 80% of Washington voters favor grizzly bear recovery. Defenders of Wildlife is proactively working with partners in the region to prevent human-bear conflicts because the science is clear on the ecological benefits of grizzly bears and we know that Washington communities can thrive alongside these bruins. It’s time for the Interior Department to finish the job and bring back the bears.”
In March 2018, then-Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke committed to finalizing a plan to return grizzlies to the North Cascades Ecosystem before the end of the summer. This announcement restarted the North Cascade Grizzly Bear Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process, which analyzed various options to recover this extremely small population of bears and was halted following the 2016 Presidential Election.
Restarting the process allowed agencies to review the more than 126,000 public comments received in 2017 for this EIS. Former Secretary Zinke announced that a record of decision would be reached by the end of 2018, but in August he issued a “stop work” order, providing no plan to continue the process.
The North Cascades Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone, anchored by North Cascades National Park, was designated by federal scientists in 1997, when it was determined that the region has sufficient quality habitat to support a sizeable grizzly population. It is the only grizzly bear recovery area on the West Coast of the contiguous United States.
Biologists estimate there are fewer than 10 grizzly bears remaining in the North Cascades today, making it the most at-risk bear population in North America. The last verified grizzly sighting in Washington’s Cascades was in 1996, with more recent documentations occurring in the British Columbia portion of the ecosystem.
The main threat to grizzly bears in this recovery zone is a small population size and isolation from other grizzly populations in central British Columbia and the Rocky Mountains. Successful restoration of North Cascades grizzly bears would be a historic victory, indicating restoration of all wildlife populations that were present in the region, prior to the turn of the 19th century.