Response to Secretary of the Interior’s termination of North Cascades grizzly restoration plan
Conservation Northwest / Jul 07, 2020 / Grizzly Bears, News Releases, North Cascades
Despite public support and scientific recommendation, Trump Administration’s Secretary of the Interior stops work on North Cascades grizzly restoration study.
Today, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt issued an order “terminating” the North Cascades Grizzly Bear Restoration Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), a scientific study and public process underway since 2014.
“We’re concerned about the lack of transparency that led to today’s decision, and its departure from the years-long public process that consistently documented strong public support for careful grizzly bear restoration led by science and community input, including more than 130,000 supportive comments,” said Chase Gunnell, Communications Director for Conservation Northwest.
Recent public comment periods and past polling show that roughly 80 percent of respondents support grizzly bear restoration in the backcountry in and around North Cascades National Park, including residents on both sides of the Cascade Crest.
“Representative Dan Newhouse is ignoring a large majority of his constituents who support grizzly bear recovery, many of whom who live in the heart of the proposed recovery area. Instead he is cutting back room deals serving only a small portion of special interests,” said Jasmine Minbashian, Executive Director of Methow Valley Citizens Council. “He can do better than this. The proposed restoration plan is a modest plan that would give grizzly bears a chance at survival in their native home – the North Cascades.”
Grizzlies have been an integral part of the North Cascades Ecosystem for approximately 20,000 years. Given their isolation from other grizzly populations, the low number of bears, their very slow reproductive rate and other constraints, the North Cascades grizzly bear population is considered the most at-risk bear population in the United States.
“This purely political decision ignores science, Park Service recommendations and overwhelming public support and instead threatens the very survival of one of the nation’s most famous wild creatures,” said Rob Smith, Northwest Regional Director for the National Parks Conservation Association. “This enormously disappointing decision is the latest flip-flop away from conservation by this administration, which under Secretary Ryan Zinke supported grizzly recovery efforts. We will continue to work with community members to advocate for the reintroduction of grizzly bears.”
“The Trump administration has broken its promise to reintroduce North Cascades grizzly bears despite ample public support,” said Robb Krehbiel, Northwest Representative for Defenders of Wildlife. “Former Interior Secretary Zinke, one of President Trump’s own appointees, committed to return grizzlies to the North Cascades, yet the administration continues to let politics get in the way. We will continue to fight for the restoration of this landscape and for grizzlies to return to their historic range. The data is clear: these bears belong here.”
“This announcement is disappointing—so much science and public engagement over the past decade supports recovery of this important species,” said Dr. Robert Long, Director of Woodland Park Zoo’s Living Northwest Program. “People of Washington deserve to live in a state with complete and intact ecosystems, and this includes our important large carnivores.”
“Despite today’s news from the Trump Administration’s Secretary of the Interior, we believe grizzly bears will eventually be restored to the wild backcountry of the North Cascades, their home for thousands of years, as action is legally required under the Endangered Species Act and federal grizzly bear recovery plans, and public support for restoring this native species remains strong,” said Gunnell of Conservation Northwest.
- In 2014, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) planning process on restoring a healthy grizzly bear population within the North Cascades ecosystem.
- Grizzly bears play a vital environmental role in North Cascades National Park and the broader ecosystem, are significant in local Native American and First Nations’ cultures, and contribute to the richness of the Pacific Northwest’s natural heritage. Unfortunately, there have been no verified grizzly bear sightings in Washington’s North Cascades in several years, despite the excellent habitat in and around the park.
- The Trump administration’s previous Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, supported the reintroduction of grizzly bears into the North Cascades, one of the few conservation initiatives the Trump administration supported. Today, Zinke’s replacement, Sec. of the Interior David Bernhardt put a halt on grizzly restoration despite broad community support for the effort.
- The public outreach over reintroducing grizzly bears into the North Cascades has been extensive and has been met with large public support, with 80% of Washington voters supportive of the issue. The National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with the U.S. Forest Service, conducted six public scoping meetings in March 2015, nine public meetings, two webinars, and at least 70 additional information briefings/meetings throughout the process with tribes, local municipalities, counties, district Congressional staff, and other stakeholders and interest groups.
- In June 2019, the public comment period for the EIS was reopened, extending the deadline until October 2019. Conservation groups, local residents and businesses, Native American tribes and other partners generated more than 133,000 comments in support of grizzly reintroduction.
- More than 80% of Washington voters support bringing grizzlies back to the North Cascades, according to a 2016 poll.
- The North Cascades Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone, anchored by North Cascades National Park, was designated by federal scientists in 1997, when it was determined that the region has sufficient quality habitat to support a sizeable grizzly population. It is the only grizzly bear recovery area on the West Coast of the contiguous United States.
- Biologists estimate there are fewer than 10 grizzly bears remaining in the North Cascades today, making it the most at-risk bear population in North America. The last verified grizzly sighting in Washington’s Cascades was in 1996, with more recent documentations occurring in the British Columbia portion of the ecosystem.
- The main threat to grizzly bears in this recovery zone is a small population size and isolation from other grizzly populations in central British Columbia and the Rocky Mountains. Successful restoration of North Cascades grizzly bears would be a historic victory, indicating restoration of all wildlife populations that were present in the region, prior to the turn of the 19th century.