Zinke announces support for North Cascades grizzly reintroduction

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has announced his support of plans to reintroduce grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) to North Cascades National Park and the surrounding North Cascades ecosystem.

Returning grizzlies to the North Cascades “is the American Conservation ethic come to life,” he said in a statement.

The last confirmed sighting of a grizzly in North Cascades National Park was in 1996. Biologists believe only about 10 bears remain within the American portion of the Northern Cascades ecosystem, with a few more in the Canadian portion. Grizzly bears were listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1975.

The National Park Service began writing an environmental impact statement for grizzly reintroduction to the region in 2014. Public comments on the draft ended in April 2017. After Montana news outlets reported that DOI had halted the drafting process late last year, it was unclear if the process would move forward.

The Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and cooperating agencies are currently evaluating the roughly 126,000 public comments on the draft. The final decision is expected to be released before the end of this summer.

The EIS lays out three options to achieve a stated population goal of 200 bears. Two options include releasing grizzlies in groups of five or 10 over a period of 60 to 100 years. Another option would reach the target population within 25 years.

So far Zinke’s announcement of support has been met with mixed reactions.

“We have never lost hope that the restoration of this American wildlife icon would proceed because the people of Washington have repeatedly demonstrated their overwhelming support for it,” said Joe Scott, the International Programs Director for Conservation Northwest, in a statement.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association expressed disappointment with Zinke’s announcement.

“Reintroducing as many as 200 man-eating predators into an area already reeling from exploding gray wolf populations is anything but neighborly,” said Ethan Lane, its federal lands executive director.

This announcement comes after grizzly bear populations in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem were delisted under the Endangered Species Act last June. That decision has since faced legal opposition.

Header Image: The National Park System is considering reintroducing grizzly bears to North Cascades National Park only a few months after the Yellowstone grizzly population was delisted. ©Yellowstone National Park