The National Park Service has announced it will conduct a three-year study to develop an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that will used to help decide whether grizzly bears should be restored to the North Cascades ecosystem in Washington state.

“This is the first stage of a multi-step process to help inform decisions about grizzly bear restoration in the North Cascades ecosystem,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis in a press release. “The National Park Service and our partners in this effort haven’t made any decisions about the bear’s restoration at this time as federal law requires us to look at a range of options, including not restoring grizzlies to the area.”

The EIS process is required under the National Environmental Policy Act. Contractors will bid for the right to conduct the study.

The statement will be developed in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers the Endangered Species Act, according to the National Parks release. The U.S. Forest Service and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will be cooperating agencies.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife listed the grizzly bear as a threatened species in the lower 48 United States in 1975. The species was listed as endangered by the state of Washington in 1980. A grizzly bear recovery plan was written in 1982 and revised in 1993. Its chapter on the North Cascades ecosystem was added in 1997 and includes a call for an EIS, according to the National Parks release.

National Parks said that the North Cascades ecosystem encompasses 9,800 square miles in the U.S. and 3,800 square miles in British Columbia, Canada. A few grizzly bears have been sighted in the Canadian part of the ecosystem. No grizzly bears have been sighted on the U.S. side for several years.

The U.S. side of the ecosystem includes North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

A contract for the EIS is expected to be awarded this fall.

“This is huge news, for the Pacific Northwest and for grizzly bears,” said Joe Scott of Conservation Northwest, in a separate news release. “It marks the potential turning point in the decades-long decline of the last grizzly bears remaining on the U.S. West Coast. Without recovery efforts, these bears may soon be gone forever. This week’s announcement renews hope that this wilderness icon will roam the North Cascades for generations to come.”

There is a population of as many as 50 grizzly bears in Washington’s Selkirk Mountains north of Spokane, according to the Conservation Northwest release.