But local, regional elected officials express opposition
By Ann McCreary
Public comments favoring restoration of grizzly bears in the North Cascades ecosystem outnumbered those opposing the idea by more than five to one, according to a report released Friday (June 12).
The report analyzes public comments received during the first phase of an environmental impact statement (EIS) for grizzly bear restoration being conducted by the National Park Service (NPS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
The report summarizes 2,881 individual comments submitted during the comment period conducted during February and March. The comments will be used to identify key issues to be addressed in the EIS, according to the federal agencies.
The EIS will consider various alternatives toward grizzly recovery, ranging from taking no action, to moving bears from other areas on the North Cascades. A tally of comments found 1,475 comments favoring grizzly bear recovery based on the preliminary alternatives presented, while 285 comments were opposed.
Among the comments in opposition were letters from both county and state elected officials who represent the Methow Valley. A letter from state Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, and signed by 13 other legislators, said “moving grizzly bears into the state is not an acceptable alternative.”
The state Legislature has a “statutory policy of natural grizzly bear recovery” which stipulates that “grizzly bears shall not be transplanted or introduced into the state … we urge you to respect Washington’s statutory grizzly bear management policy,” the letter said.
Citing a “rapid expansion of wolf populations” and issues related to livestock, deer, elk and “social intolerance,” the letter said moving grizzly bears into the state is the ”wrong choice” for Washington.
The letter, also signed by state Reps. Brad Hawkins and Cary Condotta, both Wenatchee Republicans, urged the federal agencies to “respect” Washington state policy in their planning for grizzly recovery.
Okanogan County commissioners likewise cited the state statute that prohibits transplanting grizzly bears from outside Washington. The commissioners also challenged the recovery proposal on the grounds that the “listing of grizzly bear under the endangered species act has not been completed, therefore it follows that any recovery plan is not legally defensible as well.”
Commissioners said FWS must complete a critical habitat designation before the bears can be listed under the ESA, and accused federal agencies of not coordinating with Okanogan County in developing recovery plans as required by federal law. The proposal should be withdrawn, commissioners said.
Tribes support bears
The Upper Columbia United Tribes (UCUT)) wrote in favor of restoring grizzly bears, which “once roamed all of the UCUT traditional homelands and have cultural and spiritual importance.”
The UCUT represents the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Spokane Tribe of Indians, Kalispell Tribe, Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and Coeur d’Alene Tribe.
The tribes urged including in the EIS “alternatives to add grizzly bears to the North Cascades Ecosystem while considering input from local communities.”
The Methow Valley Citizens’ Council, a local conservation organization, wrote that “the best available science at this time indicates that due to the low number of grizzly bears in the North Cascades Ecosystem, their low reproductive rate, and the absence of bears in adjacent areas, augmentation of the bear population will likely be necessary to recovery the population.”
MVCC urged the Park Service to include public education in its EIS alternatives to “reduce opposition to recovery of the grizzly bear in the NCE (North Cascades Ecosystem).”
The North Cascades Ecosystem encompasses 9,800 square miles of land in the United States and another 3,800 square miles in British Columbia. The U.S. portion includes North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest (including the Methow Ranger District), and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
The EIS is a three-year process that will determine a range of actions that could be taken to restore grizzly bears in this area.
The process began last winter with the first of a series of public meetings held in Winthrop on March 3, attended by about 80 people. Six meetings were held in western and north central Washington, attended by almost 500 people.
According to FWS, grizzly bears were listed as a threatened species in the lower 48 states in 1975 and the species was listed as endangered by the state of Washington in 1980.
A few grizzly bears have been sighted in the Canadian part of the North Cascades Ecosystem, but no verified sightings have occurred in the U.S. portion since 1996, according to Bill Gaines, a grizzly researcher with the U.S. Forest Service.
The timeline for the EIS process calls for release of a draft plan/EIS and public comment in the summer of 2016, release of a final plan in spring of 2017, and a record of decision in summer of 2017.
The analysis report and other documents related to the EIS process, including comments submitted on the recovery proposal, can be found at http://go.usa.gov/3PZMG.