Federal agencies will take additional time to consider input about plans to restore grizzly bears to the North Cascades.
The Department of the Interior, the National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife (FWS) Service recently announced their intention to further evaluate input about a proposal to transplant grizzly bears into their historic habitat in the North Cascades.
The agencies’ announcement means completion of a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and a record of decision that was expected to be completed this year will be delayed. The announcement was welcomed by Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, who has been an outspoken opponent of grizzly bear restoration.
NPS and FWS said intervention by Newhouse was a factor in their decision. “In response to requests from stakeholders, including specific inquiries from Congressman Dan Newhouse, the two bureaus are taking appropriate additional time to consider and evaluate further stakeholder input to inform the planning and decision-making process. Public input, reliance on the best available science and coordination with affected communities, agencies and organizations will be critical before a decision is made.” They did not provide a timeframe for the further evaluation.
“The communities most affected by the North Cascades Ecosystem Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan … are stakeholders whose voices must be taken into account, and I appreciate the willingness of the involved federal agencies to listen,” Newhouse said in a press release.
Stakeholders have had many opportunities to provide input on the proposal. The North Cascades grizzly recovery study began in 2014 under the Obama administration. A draft EIS on the restoration plan was released in early 2017, followed by public comment periods and public meetings, including one in Winthrop in February last year. More than 126,000 comments and correspondence have been received on the draft EIS.
“While we’ll certainly be participating in further public input opportunities and local events, grizzly bear recovery in the North Cascades has languished for 30 years, and now is not the time for further delay,” said Joe Scott, International Programs Director and grizzly bear specialist for Conservation Northwest, a Washington conservation organization.
“Since 2014, the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have led a fair and inclusive process planning for grizzly bear restoration, including substantial public engagement, numerous hearings in local communities,” Scott said.
The “vast majority” of the 126,00 comments supported the process and its bear restoration objectives, Scott said. “Multiple polls and local testimonials have also demonstrated support for grizzly recovery from communities around the North Cascades, as have resolutions from local Native American nations including the Yakama Nation and Okanagan Nation Alliance,” he said.
“Washingtonians have repeatedly voiced their support for restoring a small population of grizzly bears to the North Cascades under the guidance of sound science and community input. We urge wildlife agencies and congressional leaders to listen to them,” said Scott.