By Jasmine Minbashian
Living in the Methow is not for the faint of heart. This is rugged, mountainous country, with the elements constantly reminding us of the power of the natural world. Our backyard — the North Cascades — is one of the most remote and largest intact wild places left in the lower 48.
Consisting of nearly 10,000 square miles of contiguous wild lands, the North Cascades Ecosystem is anchored by the North Cascades National Park and several large Wilderness areas. We love living here because close connections to nature support our quality of life. But living in this beautiful landscape comes with a responsibility to be good stewards — a responsibility to share these lands with native wildlife of all shapes and sizes — including grizzly bears.
Across the lower 48, grizzly bear habitat has shrunk dramatically, and the North Cascades is one of the few remaining places suitable for grizzlies.
The North Cascades provide ideal grizzly habitat because they are remote and vast, with an abundant diversity of plant species that provide the bulk of the bear’s diet. When biologists were evaluating potential food sources for bears in the North Cascades, they looked at the available research on bear diets and developed a list of 124 plant species they feed on. They found that 100 of the 124 species of plants that are bear foods occur in the North Cascades.
Unfortunately, because of past hunting and trapping, there are very few bears left in the North Cascades today.
The last legally killed grizzly bear in Washington was taken from an area near Washington Pass in 1967 (grizzly bears were listed in 1973). Grizzlies in the North Cascades are geographically isolated from other more robust grizzly populations by roads and human development. Because of this isolation, natural recovery is infeasible. Biologists have determined that unless we supplement the local population, we are at risk of losing these bears forever.
Our home has been their home for thousands of years and today they need our help.
Restoration proposals under the North Cascades National Park’s Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan are modest: approximately five bears per year over 5-10 years, with the initial goal of restoring a population of 25 grizzly bears in the 6-million-acre grizzly recovery zone. By contrast, there are an estimated 25,000 black bears in Washington state.
Biologists estimate that it could take up to a century to fully recover grizzly bears to a population of 200 bears in the North Cascades Ecosystem, as grizzly bears reproduce very slowly and cub survival rates can be low.
This type of restoration effort is currently underway in the Cabinet-Yaak Mountains of Montana and has been largely successful. State and federal bear managers there have worked for three decades to reestablish a sustainable grizzly population in the Cabinet Mountains and Yaak River area. Since 1990, 22 of the animals have been brought in to boost the population and its genetic diversity.
With the right amount of support from our elected and community leaders, the National Park Service and other agencies, as well as public education and outreach, we are fully capable of coexisting with grizzlies as neighbors. Whether you are a hiker, hunter, or farmer, there are simple, effective tools to successfully minimize conflicts with wildlife and people.
Unfortunately, our Representative Dan Newhouse and local County Commissioner Andy Hover have come out against a restoration proposal for the North Cascades and are spending a considerable amount of taxpayer dollars organizing opposition to it. Killing the North Cascades Grizzly Restoration Plan will essentially result in extinction for our few remaining local bears.
What to do
We can do better than this. The proposed restoration plan is a modest plan that strikes the right balance between the needs of grizzly bears and the needs and values of local communities. There are several ways in the next month to voice your support:
• Attend the public hearing on Monday (Oct. 7) at 5 p.m. at the Okanogan Agriplex.
• Attend a talk by bear expert and TV/radio host Chris Morgan at the Winthrop Barn on Oct. 17 at 6:30 p.m.
• Submit a letter through the public comment period open through Oct. 24.
Help keep the North Cascades a natural, beautiful and wild place in which to live, work and play. Let’s not let the iconic North Cascades grizzly go extinct on our watch. Keep the soul of the North Cascades alive!
I invite you to learn more at www.northcascadesgrizzly.org.
Jasmine Minbashian is the executive director of the Methow Valley Citizens Council.