On September 29, 2023, the U.S. National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a draft plan to restore grizzly bears to the North Cascades Ecosystem (NCE), a region they formerly roamed for many thousands of years.
Two non-profit organizations that have been championing this restoration—Conservation Northwest and Friends of the North Cascades Grizzly Bear—praised the action.
Resumption of the draft plan and environmental impact statement is a major step towards bringing grizzly bears back to a suitable ecosystem; one spanning an area from the U.S. state of Washington to the Canadian province of British Columbia.
Joe Scott, International Programs Director for Conservation Northwest, said, “The grizzly bear is still the consummate North American wildlife icon. The grizzly has immeasurable ecological and cultural value for our ecosystems and communities. We have a unique opportunity and obligation in the PNW to co-author a significant conservation success story – to restore the grizzly to a small but important part of its traditional home.”
The North Cascades is one of North America’s premier intact ecosystems, but it is functionally and aesthetically incomplete without grizzly bears.
“Grizzlies and humans coexist elsewhere in the West,” said Skagit County local Jack Oelfke, an avid hiker and former National Park Service manager.
“We need to muster the courage and humility to bring them back as a critical part of our shared wild landscape here in the North Cascades,” he continued.
This is the second attempt by the agencies to restore grizzlies to the NCE after a 2015 process was tragically halted by the incompetent, ill-informed Trump administration in 2020.
“Many rural residents living in the North Cascades recognize that they are in grizzly bear habitat,” said Jasmine Minbashian, executive director of the Methow Valley Citizens Council.
“They recognize that as a native species, grizzlies were here before them and we should make room for them to return,” she explained.
At the time, more than 159,000 members of the public wrote comments supporting the reintroduction of grizzlies.
“The time has come for the grizzly bear to return to its habitat to take its place in the indigenous ecosystem,” said Scott Schuyler, policy representative for the Upper Skagit Tribe, whose territory lies within the recovery zone.
“The Upper Skagit successfully coexisted with grizzly bears for thousands of years, and we should once more,” he added.
The NCE is one of two federal grizzly recovery areas without an established population of bears, and natural bear migration is unlikely to repopulate it.
Instead, based on decades of thorough research, wildlife biologists suggest safely relocating existing bears into the North Cascades.
Photo of Grizzly sow and cubs by Traveler100 via Wikipedia.