Grizzly Bears Set to Be Restored to Washington State’s North Cascades

Grizzlies are headed back to another area within their historic range.

The National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have announced that grizzly bears will be restored to Washington State’s North Cascades ecosystem, from which the species had disappeared largely due to hunting. The last time there was a confirmed sighting of a grizzly in the U.S. portion of the North Cascades was in 1996.

Grizzly bear sits in grass

In a news release, North Cascades National Park Service Complex Superintendent Don Striker said, “We are going to once again see grizzly bears on the landscape, restoring an important thread in the fabric of the North Cascades.”

The decision comes after an Environmental Impact Statement process began in 2022 and more than 12,000 comments were received during a public comment period.

Public opinion on grizzlies can be impacted by livestock producers’ concerns over the species’ impact on their operations, which had led officials to consider making the North Cascade grizzly bears a 10(j) experimental population. This allows for management tools not typically available under Endangered Species Act listings. The final rule has them designated as a nonessential experimental population, to allow for this flexibility.

Grizzly bear walks toward camera

Brad Thompson, State Supervisor for the USFWS, says, “The final 10(j) rule is based on extensive community engagement and conversations about how the return of a grizzly bear population in the North Cascades will be actively managed to address concerns about human safety, property and livestock, and grizzly bear recovery. It provides an expanded set of management tools in recognition that grizzly bear recovery in the North Cascades is dependent on community tolerance of grizzly bears.”

The plan is to translocate three to seven bears per year, over a five- to 10-year period, from interior British Columbia and Rocky Mountain ecosystems. Though a timeline has yet to be set, the goal is to begin with a population of 25 within the nearly 10,000-square mile ecosystem.

An estimated 50,000 grizzlies once roamed across an area including 18 states in the lower 48, but westward expansion by Europeans led to mass killings of the species, over concerns about human and livestock safety. By the 1930s, grizzlies were only found within about 2% of their historic range in the contiguous U.S. In the mid-1970s, their population fell as low as 700 to 800.

Profile of grizzly bear walking down hill

Now, there are around 2,000, according to the USFWS. The majority are found within the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem in north-central Montana and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. There are also fewer than 100 in the Selkirks of northern Idaho and northeastern Washington, as well as in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem of northwestern Montana and northern Idaho. The USFWS notes that few permanent resident bears live outside of these areas.

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