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Recovering grizzly bears

The North Cascades of Washington State is one of six designated recovery areas for grizzly bears in North America.

Recovering a North American icon

Grizzly bear recovery areas. Source: USFWSWashington State is home to one of the few remaining populations of grizzly bears in the lower 48 states. Today's North American grizzly bears (outside of Alaska) live in only five ecosystems: the Greater Yellowstone area, Northern Continental Divide, Selkirk Mountains, Cabinet-Yaak Mountains, and the North Cascades. Along with the Bitterroot ecosystem in Idaho, in which grizzlies are thought to be extirpated, these are all officially recognized "Grizzly Bear Recovery Zones."

The US government has had a recovery plan since 1997, but to date the most important part of the plan has not been implemented–to start a public process under the guidance of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that will lead to the addition of a small number of bears from a more robust population into the North Cascades.

Washington State Rep. Rick Larsen has previously recommended federal funding to jump start the recovery plan, a move in the right direction.

Ensuring grizzly bears in our future

Grizzly habitat in the North Cascades, high-meadows. Photo by Erin Moore

Government biologists have found that the greater North Cascades ecosystem has sufficient quantity and quality of habitat to support a self-sustaining population of grizzly bears.

Given their dangerously low numbers and very slow reproductive rate, (second only to the musk oxen among North American land mammals), full recovery could take up to a century to achieve. The planning process alone for recovery, once begun in earnest, will take 3 to 5 years. It's time to get started now.

What you can do for grizzly bears

Endangered bears

In 1975, the grizzly bear was federally listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as a “threatened” species in the United States outside Alaska. The US and British Columbia governments estimate that there are likely fewer than 25 grizzly bears living in the US and Canadian North Cascades. Most likely the home ranges of a small number of grizzly bears span the border.

Credible sightings and/or tracks in the North Cascades occur every year. Grizzly bears are most often found on upper elevation mountain slopes, in avalanche chutes, and in lower elevation wetlands. Though their range tends to be higher in elevation than that of black bears, which are abundant in WA, there is also much habitat overlap.

Cascades: Important recovery area

The North Cascades ecosystem is the second largest of the six recovery zones. It crosses the border into British Columbia, and includes North Cascades National Park as well as much of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie, Wenatchee, and Okanogan National Forests. This habitat is 90% federally and state owned: 40% is federally protected wilderness and 72% has Forest Service roadless status, which is key to grizzly bear survival.

Related populations of grizzly bears just north of the Cascades, for example in the Stein-Nahatlatch of British Columbia, are also at risk and terrifically important to an overall future for bears in the greater Northwest.


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