Statement on halt of North Cascades grizzly bear recovery work

Statement on halt of North Cascades grizzly bear recovery work

ConservationNWAdmin / Dec 18, 2017 / Grizzly Bears, North Cascades, Restoring Wildlife

Over the weekend, it was reported that the Trump Administration and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke havE allegedly SUSPENDED ongoing North Cascades grizzly bear recovery work. In response to this news, Conservation Northwest issued the following statement:

“We are disappointed that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the Trump Administration have put North Cascades grizzly bear recovery work on hold, siding with the local extinction of this iconic native species over the strong majority of Washingtonians who support their recovery,” said Chase Gunnell, Communications Director for Conservation Northwest. “Equally frustrating is that the many years of science, public education and significant taxpayer dollars that have gone into grizzly bear recovery in our region are apparently not being taken seriously by this administration.”

“A century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt famously said ‘When I hear of the destruction of a species, I feel just as if all the works of some great writer have perished’. That the only remaining grizzly bear population in the lower 48 states outside the Rocky Mountains might be abandoned to such a fate by men who claim to venerate Roosevelt is downright shameful.”

Recovery plans have been in place for grizzly bears in the North Cascades since 1997, and there’s little time for further delay. Fewer than ten remain in this transboundary ecosystem that sprawls across 9,800 square miles of rugged country anchored by North Cascades National Park. Mostly undeveloped backcountry, it’s an area larger than the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem where more than 700 grizzlies now reside. Isolated from other grizzly populations in Canada and the Northern Rockies by geography and development but with excellent bear habitat and abundant food sources still available, the North Cascades grizzly population needs restoration action or the Great Bear will soon disappear from a landscape it has roamed for more than 20,000 years.

A grizzly bear photographed in 2012 in the British Columbia portion of the North Cascades Ecosystem just a few miles north of the international border. Photo: B.C. Ministry of Environment

Washingtonians largely agree that preventing the extirpation of this iconic native species is important for our natural and cultural heritage. More than 127,000 public comments were submitted on a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in early 2017, the vast majority of them supportive of recovery. The National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were in the midst of reviewing those comments when the EIS was allegedly put on “indefinite hold“. During a 2015 public comment period and in recent independent polling of Washington residents, more than 80 percent of respondents across geographic and partisan lines agreed that grizzly bears are important, and should be restored in the wilderness of the North Cascades where quality habitat remains.

Moving testimonials from Native American leaders, scientists, hikers, conservationists, sportsmen, rural community members and other Washingtonians also point to the vital need to save the North Cascades grizzly bear.

“While we acknowledge that there are some remaining concerns about grizzly bear recovery, particularly in some rural communities, we have worked hard to address these concerns and will continue to do so,” said Gunnell. “With some straightforward precautions, responsible management and continuing opportunities for ‘bear aware’ education, grizzly bears can thrive in the big wild places of the North Cascades alongside vibrant local communities. People and grizzly bears successfully share the landscape with few problems in areas including Montana, British Columbia and northeast Washington. We can do the same here in Washington’s North Cascades.”

Thankfully, it’s still not too late to pull this grizzly population back from the brink. Along with our ally organizations and the tens of thousands of Northwesterners who support restoring these animals to their rightful home, Conservation Northwest will continue working to recover a healthy grizzly bear population in the North Cascades through science and community involvement because it will help keep the Northwest a natural, beautiful and sustainable place in which to live, work and play.

In light of this new delay at the behest of the Trump Administration, recovery work in the British Columbia portion of the North Cascades, including provincial recovery planning and Conservation Northwest’s Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Initiative, will be increasingly important.

As an umbrella species, grizzly bears are a direct sign of ecosystem health for dozens of other animals. Wherever grizzlies thrive, so does a deep and real wildness, something increasingly disappearing from the American West.

“The North Cascades Ecosystem is one of the largest areas of wild and protected land remaining in the lower 48 states,” said Gunnell. “A key part of the Pacific Northwest’s rich natural heritage, it’s important that we pass it on with all its native wildlife, including grizzly bears. Anything less is falling short on the legacy of past conservation leaders like Roosevelt. Allowing the North Cascades grizzly bear population to wink out would be a tragic failure of stewardship of the wild heritage we hold in trust for future generations.”

Conservation Northwest strongly urges government agencies and other stakeholders to continue to work to restore the North Cascades grizzly bear population, and to collaborate with local communities and outdoor enthusiasts regarding ways to coexist with these iconic animals. To learn more about the plight of the North Cascades grizzly bear, including videos about how restoring this population would work, or to add your name as a supporter of recovery, please visit www.northcascadesgrizzly.org.