Groups up­set by North Cas­cades griz­zly de­ci­sion

Enterprise-Record (Chico) - - NEWS - By Ni­cholas K. Geran­ios

SPOKANE, WASH. » The forested moun­tains in and around North Cas­cades Na­tional Park in north cen­tral Wash­ing­ton state have long been con­sid­ered prime habi­tat for threat­ened griz­zly bears, so en­vi­ron­men­tal groups are up­set the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion scrapped plans to rein­tro­duce the apex preda­tors there.

U.S. Sec­re­tary of the In­te­rior David L. Bern­hardt on Tues­day an­nounced his agency will not con­duct the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact state­ment needed to move for­ward with the idea.

That drew re­bukes from con­ser­va­tion groups, who have worked for decades to grow the tiny pop­u­la­tion of about 10 griz­zlies in the vast North Cas­cades, where writer Jack Ker­ouac spent the sum­mer of 1956 as a look­out for wild­fires.

“Griz­zlies have been an in­te­gral part of the North Cas­cades ecosys­tem for 20,000 years but are now one of the most threat­ened pop­u­la­tions in North Amer­ica,” said Rob Smith, north­west di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Parks Con­ser­va­tion As­so­ci­a­tion. “This purely political de­ci­sion ig­nores sci­ence, Park Ser­vice rec­om­men­da­tions and over­whelm­ing pub­lic sup­port.”

He noted that for­mer In­te­rior

Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke sup­ported griz­zly re­cov­ery ef­forts there be­fore leav­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

In 2015, un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, the fed­eral govern­ment be­gan an en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact state­ment plan­ning process on restor­ing the bears in the North Cas­cades.

Griz­zly bears play a vi­tal en­vi­ron­men­tal role in the park and the broader ecosys­tem, Smith said. But there have been no ver­i­fied sight­ings in the re­gion in sev­eral years, rais­ing con­cerns about their sur­vival.

While Bern­hardt pointed to lo­cal op­po­si­tion to in­tro­duc­ing bears into the North Cas­cades, Smith said a ma­jor­ity of Wash­ing­ton res­i­dents have sup­ported the pro­posal in the past.

The Cen­ter for Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity also called the de­ci­sion political.

“Griz­zly bears only oc­cupy less than 5% of their his­toric range, and the North Cas­cades presents prime habi­tat for griz­zly bears,” said An­drea Zac­cardi, an at­tor­ney with the group. “Their re­cov­ery there is crit­i­cal to the over­all re­cov­ery of griz­zly bears in the U.S.”

The cen­ter con­tends the North Cas­cades could sup­port more than 700 griz­zly bears over 9,000 square miles of habi­tat. About 41% of the re­cov­ery zone is within the na­tional park, and about 72% has no mo­tor­ized ac­cess.

But Rep. Dan Ne­w­house, a Repub­li­can who rep­re­sents cen­tral Wash­ing­ton state in Congress, said lo­cal res­i­dents don’t want a larger pop­u­la­tion of griz­zlies there.

“This an­nounce­ment is wel­comed by my con­stituents in cen­tral Wash­ing­ton who have con­sis­tently shared my same con­cerns about in­tro­duc­ing an apex preda­tor into the North Cas­cades,” Ne­w­house said.

Bern­hardt’s an­nounce­ment came at a meet­ing in Omak, Wash­ing­ton, 100 miles east of the na­tional park, where op­po­si­tion to the bears is strong.

Bern­hardt said the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion will con­tinue to fo­cus on grow­ing griz­zly bear pop­u­la­tions across their ex­ist­ing range, which in­cludes parts of Mon­tana, Wy­oming, Idaho and east­ern Wash­ing­ton state.

The re­cov­ery of griz­zly bears in the lower 48 states is al­ready an amaz­ing suc­cess story, the agency said.

The Greater Yel­low­stone Ecosys­tem has been the pri­mary fo­cus of griz­zly re­cov­ery ef­forts to date, and griz­zly pop­u­la­tions have in­creased to about 700 bears there since the an­i­mals were listed as threat­ened un­der the En­dan­gered Species Act in 1975.

The en­vi­ron­men­tal group Con­ser­va­tion North­west was dis­ap­pointed by the de­ci­sion, but did not think it was the fi­nal word on the bears.

“We are still con­fi­dent they will be re­stored there, spokesman Chase Gun­nell said.

Fed­eral griz­zly bear re­cov­ery plans are man­dated by the En­dan­gered Species Act and re­quire griz­zly re­cov­ery in the North Cas­cades, Gun­nell said.

It is the largest fed­er­ally des­ig­nated Griz­zly Bear Re­cov­ery Zone and the only such zone out­side the Rocky Moun­tains, he said.

North Cas­cades Na­tional Park and sur­round­ing back coun­try ar­eas also re­ceive far fewer vis­i­tors each year than places such as Yel­low­stone or Glacier na­tional parks, where the ma­jor­ity of the na­tion’s griz­zlies roam, Gun­nell said.

De­spite the ex­cel­lent habi­tat, re­cov­ery of the an­i­mals in the North Cas­cades will re­quire that some bears be im­ported into the back coun­try, Gun­nell said.

Given their iso­la­tion from other griz­zly pop­u­la­tions, their very slow re­pro­duc­tive rate and other con­straints, the tiny pop­u­la­tion of North Cas­cades griz­zly bears is con­sid­ered the most atrisk bear pop­u­la­tion in the United States, Gun­nell said.

Griz­zly bears were listed as a threat­ened species in 1975. They have slowly re­gained ter­ri­tory and in­creased in num­bers in the en­su­ing decades.

An es­ti­mated 50,000 bears once roamed the lower 48. Govern­mentspon­sored pro­grams led to most be­ing poi­soned, shot and trapped by the 1930s.

ELAINE THOMP­SON — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

A griz­zly bear roams an ex­hibit at the Wood­land Park Zoo in Seattle on May 26.

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