Grizzly Bears in Stehekin

In the past yearthere has been some activity relating to the National Park Service and US Fish and Wildlife plan to introduce grizzly bears into the North Cascades National Park. It has been a year of back and forth with no definitive decision either way; the plan has been halted, restarted and then paused again.

Following the public comment period any definite decision by the Park Service was halted by the Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke’s, office in November 2017. This may have been in response to a coalition of county commissioners from Chelan, Okanogan and Skagit counties. In August 2017 the commissioners sent a letter to Secretary Zinke expressing concern about the grizzly bear introduction plan. Download and read the letter and supporting documents here.

In March the following year, Secretary Zinke made a surprising announcement at North Cascades National Park headquarters in Sedro Wooley backing the NPS plan to introduce grizzly bears into the Park. It is possible his decision was an attempt to gain an “environmental ‘win’” and appease environmentalists who have opposed Zinke’s appointment as Secretary of Interior from the beginning. Secretary Zinke’s support of grizzly bear relocation gave the Park Service a green light to resume deliberation.

In June, Congressman Newhouse of Washington’s 4th district introduced an amendment in the Interior Appropriations Bill to deny funding the transplantation of grizzly bears into Washington State. View his testimony here.

Newhouse provided three reasons for the proposed amendment. First, he questioned the draft Environmental Impact Statement as not based on “sound science.” Second, the transportation of grizzlies into the state violates state law. Finally, Newhouse does not believe that the local community, including his constituents, was fairly heard during the public comment period.

Congressman Newhouse is not the first to question the soundness of the draft EIS. That was a comment theme in many of our responses to the DEIS. For further information you can read our letters. The commissioners’ letter proposes that the plan would not hold up in light of advancements in science since 1993, and new research suggesting that the North Cascades would not be a suitable candidate for an increase grizzly population.

Washington State passed RCW 77.12.035 in 1995 prohibiting the transplantation of grizzly bears into the state and stating that efforts to increase the grizzly population must focus on “natural regeneration.” This law was enacted following the identification of the North Cascades as the location for grizzly bear identification in 1991 with a plan being published in 1993.

Conservation groups, such as Conservation Northwest a Seattle based agency, declare that the local community overwhelmingly supports efforts to introduce a new grizzly population in the North Cascades. Such groups point to a survey conducted on a small sample of 600 voters from across the state using very abstract, somewhat leading, questions. The survey begins by setting the grizzly bear up as a part of the American heritage and does not go anywhere near the actual plan to transplant the bears into the state. In addition to the questions, the survey is organized by region. Chelan county is lumped into the “Seattle-Tacoma Exurbs” category with twelve other counties including San Juan County. A Chelan county resident has a closer relationship to the grizzly bear introduction plan than a resident of San Juan County, yet they are merged with the other eleven counties as one entity.

The appropriations bill has been passed by both the House and the Senate and is now back in the House awaiting approval of Senate changes. As far as we know the amendment is still in the bill. We will know more later this month.

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