Draft plan for N. Cascades still under review
If you’ve never commented about the possibility of reintroducing grizzly bears into the North Cascades, or have already commented but have something more to say, now’s the time.
The National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) said last week that they are reopening the public comment period on the Draft North Cascades Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS) for 90 days, through Oct. 24.
The action revives an on-and-off process that began in 2014 under the Obama administration, to consider if and how grizzlies should be reintroduced to an area that was once their native habitat and which now supports only a few of the animals.
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 2017. More than 126,000 comments and correspondence have been received on the draft EIS. The overwhelming majority supported the reintroduction proposal. In late 2017, the process was put on hold.
In August 2018, the Department of the Interior, NPS and USFWS said they intended to further evaluate input about the proposal, which meant that completion of a final EIS was further delayed. At that time, the federal agencies did not provide a timeframe for further evaluation.
Fourth District Congressman Dan Newhouse said last week, in a press release, that “I remain opposed to the transfer of grizzly bears to the North Cascades on behalf of my constituents, who would be directly affected. Introducing an additional apex predator to an area that is populated by families and livestock is extremely concerning, but I am glad the Department of the Interior is seeking real, local public comments on this issue. I encourage the people of Central Washington to make their voices heard loud and clear so the Administration will end this misguided proposal once and for all.”
A study by the NPS, released in 2018, turned up a significant body of evidence showing that grizzly bears roamed the North Cascades for thousands of years.
The EIS proposes three alternatives for re-establishing a population of 200 grizzly bears in the North Cascades Ecosystem (NCE), which includes 9,800 square miles in Washington state and another 3,800 square miles in British Columbia. The area includes the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest (including the Methow Valley Ranger District), North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
In addition to the three proposals to restore grizzlies to the North Cascades, the draft EIS includes a required “no action” alternative that would maintain the status quo.
Although the actual number of grizzlies in the NCE is not known, it is “highly unlikely that the area contains a viable grizzly bear population,” the original draft EIS stated. There have been only four confirmed detections of grizzly bears in the greater NCE in the past decade, all of which occurred in British Columbia and may comprise only two bears. There is no confirmed evidence of grizzly bears in the U.S. portion of the NCE since 1996, according to the draft EIS.
The alternatives, as summarized in a newsletter from FWS and NPS, are:
• Alternative A – Continuation of Existing Grizzly Bear Management (no action).
• Alternative B – Ecosystem Evaluation Restoration. NPS and FWS would implement an ecosystem evaluation approach to grizzly bear restoration, providing for release of up to 10 grizzly bears at a single remote site on NPS or U.S. Forest Service lands in the NCE over two consecutive summers. The bears would be monitored for two years to evaluate habitat use and instances of conflicts with humans. In the fourth year a decision would be made regarding how restoration would proceed during subsequent years. That could involve repeating the release of an additional 10 bears, or a decision to transition to Alternative C.
• Alternative C – Incremental Restoration. Five to seven bears would be released into the NCE each year over a period of five to 10 years, with a goal of establishing an initial population of 25 grizzly bears. Bears would be released at multiple remote sites on national park and forest lands, After an initial population of 25 grizzly bears has been reached, additional bears would likely be released every few years. This alternative would be expected to achieve the goal of 200 grizzly bears within 60 to 100 years.
• Alternative D – Expedited Restoration. The lead federal agencies would expedite grizzly bear restoration by releasing additional grizzly bears into the NCE over time, until the restoration goal of 200 bears is reached. This alternative would be expected to achieve that goal within about 25 years.
How to comment
Comments previously submitted on the Draft EIS during the public comment period that was open from Jan. 12, 2017, through April 28, 2017, will be considered. You can view the Draft EIS online, and offer comments on it, at parkplanning.nps.gov/grizzlydeis. You can also mail or hand-deliver comments to: Superintendent’s Office, North Cascades National Park Service Complex, 810 State Route 20, Sedro-Woolley, WA 98284.
Comments will not be accepted by fax, email, or any other way. Bulk comments in any format (hard copy or electronic) submitted on behalf of others will not be accepted.