OLYMPIA – Some state and local lawmakers say the federal government should not even consider relocating grizzly bears to the North Cascades.
Some conservation groups say without it, grizzlies may never again roam these wild and remote mountains that offer prime habitat for a feared and misunderstood species.
Two federal agencies – the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service – will sort through these and many other comments before writing a draft Environmental Impact Statement that will eventually determine whether the federal government will take an active role in restoring grizzly bears to the North Cascades, including the North Cascades National Park and parts of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
Comments on the process were accepted through Thursday and will be used to help determine the scope of a proposal by the federal agencies.
Over the next couple of months, the agencies will compile and sort the comments, and address any concerns and issues that were raised, said Ann Froschauer, spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. A draft EIS with alternatives for recovering grizzlies – followed by another round of comments – is expected to be released by the summer of 2016.
Local politicians made clear their opposition to any proposals that might include bringing in grizzlies from other areas. Led by Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, several state lawmakers sent a comment to the agencies concluding in bold print, “Simply put, moving grizzly bears into the state is not an acceptable alternative.”
The letter was signed by seven senators and six representatives, most of them from North Central Washington. It was signed by 12th District Reps. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, and Brad Hawkins, R-East Wenatchee. Also signing from the 7th District were Sen. Brian Dansel, R-Republic, and 7th District Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, and Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda.
The letter focused on a state law enacted in 1995 that states, “grizzly bears shall not be transplanted or introduced into the state. The law calls on the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to manage programs to encourage natural regeneration of grizzly bears into areas with suitable habitat, and to use only grizzlies native to Washington in its management efforts.
The letter also says that the state is already dealing with gray wolf recovery issues of livestock damage, deer and elk impacts and social tolerance. “The state needs support from the federal government as it deals with these challenges, not added complications from an introduced predator population,” the letter says.
Okanogan County commissioners wrote that any plan to relocate grizzlies is not only contrary to state law, it would also violate federal law.
In an apparent threat to sue the agencies, the letter says the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has “only one legal course of action available to avoid litigation.” Commissioners contend that the agency never completed a critical habitat designation, which must include analysis of the economic impacts.
While lawmakers asked the agencies not to include relocation as an option, conservation groups wrote that it is the only option.
“The no action alternative has been functionally in effect for the last 40 years,” wrote the Elizabeth Ruther, Northwest representative for the Defenders of Wildlife. “No recent confirmed sightings, despite a large monitoring effort by the agencies, indicates that natural recruitment, also known as passive recovery is not working.”
A joint letter from Conservation Northwest and the Sierra Club also asked the federal government to play an active role.
The groups also wrote that potential impacts of climate change makes it more important to restore grizzly bears and all native species to their former ranges wherever possible so they can be more resilient to those impacts.
Even if grizzly bears reclaim the North Cascades, it only equates to roughly four percent of their former range in the contiguous United States, the letter concludes.
Finally, Chris Morgan, a grizzly bear specialist who has worked as a television host for the Public Broadcasting Service, the British Broadcasting Corporation and National Geographic, wrote that polls show the people of Washington think bears are an essential component of the North Cascades and should be preserved for future generations.
“It’s unfortunate that the vocal minority opposed to grizzly bear recovery muddies the water with inaccuracies and myth – something that the grizzly bear has faced since the days of Lewis and Clark,” he wrote.
He added that grizzlies are a prime reason that people flock to places like Yellowstone National Park, resulting in 155 local jobs and $10 million per year in revenue for local communities.
“The window of opportunity to restore some of our wild planet has long been closed in most parts of the world. But it is different in Washington State,” his letter states. “Here, the window is still open.”