- Grizzly bear photographed in April 2010 just 15 miles north of the U.S. border. It would have been a short walk to the U.S. side of the Cascades for this bear. Photo: B.C. Ministry of the Environment
Did you know Washington state is grizzly country? A small group of North Cascades grizzly bears is one of only five confirmed populations remaining in the Lower 48, and the only such population outside the greater Rocky Mountains. Grizzly bears historically enjoyed a range across western North America and have lived in the Cascades for thousands of years.
There are other grizzly bears in Washington state, including as many as 80 in the Selkirk Mountains of northeast Washington, northwestern Idaho and southeastern British Columbia .
But today the North Cascades grizzly is in desperate trouble. With so few grizzly bears in Washington’s North Cascades, many wildlife scientists believe the population may soon go extinct. We can't let this happen!
Washington Grizzly Bear Basics
- The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service believes there are fewer than 20 grizzly bears remaining in the U.S. North Cascades. The British Columbia Ministry of Environment estimates there are six grizzly bears in the Canadian North Cascades.
- Grizzly bears are most often found in remote, mountainous regions on upper elevation slopes, in avalanche chutes, and occasionally in lower elevation wetlands in spring. The rugged terrain of the North Cascades makes tracking or even observing these bears extremely difficult.
- Grizzly bears are opportunistic omnivores. Outside of Alaska and western Canada, a typical grizzly diet is less than 10% fish or meat, mostly carrion from winter-killed deer and elk. Berries, grasses, roots, bulbs, mushrooms and insects including ants and moths are important food sources.
- Even though many thousands of people live, work and recreate in bear country every year from Wyoming to Montana, Idaho and Washington state, grizzly bear attacks are extremely rare.
- Grizzly bears are considered “umbrella” species because their conservation benefits dozens of other species.
- These iconic native creatures historically enjoyed a range across western North America and have lived in the Cascades for thousands of years. With only about 1500 in the Lower 48, grizzly bears have been reduced to a small fraction of their historic numbers and range.
Even though many thousands of people live, work and recreate in bear country every year from Wyoming to Montana, Idaho and Washington state, grizzly bear attacks are extremely rare.
General Recovery History
- 1800’s to early 1900’s: Unregulated trapping, poisoning, hunting, loss of habitat and other human causes eliminate grizzly bears from 98% of their former range in the contiguous United States.
- 1975: Grizzly bear listed as “Threatened” under the US Endangered Species Act. The US Fish & Wildlife Service has found that the North Cascades grizzly bear warrants an “Endangered” classification, however this uplisting was precluded by other “budgetary needs.”
- 1983: Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC), including representatives from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, USFS, USGS, state Wildlife Departments, and the British Columbia Ministry for the Environment, was established to coordinate grizzly recovery.
- 1991: A team of US and Canadian biologists submits a report to the IGBC affirming the suitability of the North Cascades to support a viable population of grizzly bears.
- The IGBC identified six ecosystems in four states with substantial quality habitat for grizzly bear recovery. The North Cascades is the only recovery area outside of the Rocky Mountains. At just two hours’ drive time from Seattle, it’s the closest to a major metropolitan area.
- 1997: North Cascades Recovery Plan or Chapter was finalized.
- 2001: Western Wildlife Outreach, a comprehensive public awareness project, begins operating in the region, providing thousands of citizens with accurate, science-based information about bear behavior, ecology, and tips for coexistence.
- 2013: The Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Initiative is formed to protect and recover threatened grizzly bears and safeguard their habitat in southwest British Columbia and northwest Washington state through science-based planning and community involvement. Partners include First Nations, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Conservation NW, Sierra Club BC and others
- 2014: After nearly two decades of delay, preparation of an environmental impact statement examining North Cascades grizzly bear recovery, as well as alternatives to recovery, is announced for the fall of 2014.
North Cascades Habitat Facts and Population Goals
- The North Cascades Ecosystem Recovery Zone is bounded by the Canadian border to the north and I-90 to the south, and consists of North Cascades National Park and portions of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forests.
- At nearly 10,000 square miles the North Cascades Grizzly Bear Recovery Area is one of the largest contiguous blocks of wild federal land remaining in the lower 48 states. Approximately 41% of the area is national park or designated wilderness while over 70% has no motorized access.
- While the North Cascades span the Canadian border, the Cascades recovery area is distant from relatively larger grizzly bear populations in the B.C. Coast and Chilcotin Mountains. Efforts are underway to protect and recover southwest B.C.’s grizzly bears which are themselves threatened. To achieve regional grizzly bear recovery in the long-term it will be necessary to establish a reproductive population in the trans-boundary Cascades range, increase southwestern B.C.’s grizzly bears and protect habitat that links these region’s bears together.
- Full recovery will take many decades, but biologists found that the North Cascades ecosystem has a quantity and quality of habitat to support a self-sustaining population of several hundred grizzly bears.
- All public lands within the North Cascades recovery zone are already managed to the standards of grizzly bear recovery. If approved, recovery efforts will be conducted deep in the backcountry far from popular access areas. Human interaction with the bears will be extremely limited.
Regional Public Attitudes
Polling has reflected strong public support for grizzly bear recovery in the North Cascades that transcends geographic and demographic lines. In an independent poll conducted in 2005 in and adjacent to the NCE grizzly bear recovery zone, residents demonstrated strong support for grizzly bear recovery. The survey was consistent with previous polls.
Polling has reflected strong public support for grizzly bear recovery in the North Cascades that transcends geographic and demographic lines
The findings included:
- 81% agree with the following statement: Grizzly bears are an important and essential component of the North Cascades ecosystem.
- 76% agree with the following statement: Grizzly bears were here before humans and have an inherent right to live in the North Cascades.
- 79% disagree with the following statement: There is no need for grizzly bears in the North Cascades Mountains.
- 86% agree with the following statement: Grizzly bears in the North Cascades Mountains should be preserved for future generations.
- 79% support: In general, do you support or oppose grizzly bear recovery in the North Cascades Mountains?
- 79% responded same or more: Would your opinion of grizzly bear recovery be more supportive, the same, or less supportive if recovery required adding 5-10 bears into the North Cascade Mountains from another wild population in the U.S.?
Grizzly Bears and Recreation
“There has never been a permanently closed trail or area in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in 40 years because of grizzly bears.” Kim Barber, senior grizzly bear biologist, Shoshone National Forest.
The Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming has the highest density of grizzly bears in the Lower 48, and the entire Yellowstone ecosystem has approximately 650 grizzly bears. Even with populations of several hundred bears, persistent access closures in the area are almost nonexistent and dangerous encounters between humans and grizzly bears are exceedingly rare.
While there are occasionally temporary grizzly related trail and campground closures, these are usually the result of food-related considerations. For example, wildlife officials may close a trail if a bear is feeding on an animal carcass or spawning trout nearby, only to reopen the trail once the bear has moved on.
With some education and awareness, steps to recreate safely in grizzly country become commonplace. North Cascades National Park already requires visitors keep their camps bear-safe by using specially designed bear canisters or by hanging food, cooking utensils, trash and other fragrant items at least ten feet off the ground and more than 100 yards from tents or sleeping areas .
Grizzly bears epitomize wilderness. Where these iconic animals can live and roam, there is clear air, clean water and wild country. Grizzly bear recovery and wilderness protection and recreation are compatible as people want and bears need large, unspoiled wilderness areas.
If you do see a grizzly, respect the bear’s need for space. Try to make a wide detour or leave the area. If you suddenly surprise a bear at close range, STOP. Don’t crowd the bear – leave it a clear escape route and it will probably exit .
For More Information
Or visit these websites for safety tips and more information about grizzly bears in the Northwest: