A conservation organization is suing the Trump administration over its decision last summer to abruptly end a six-year study on restoring grizzly bears to the North Cascades.
The Trump administration’s decision to stop planning for grizzly bear recovery in the North Cascades violates federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which requires conservation of wildlife listed as threatened or endangered, according to the lawsuit filed Dec. 16 by the Center for Biological Diversity.
The lawsuit asks that the court order the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the two lead agencies for grizzly recovery, to resume planning to restore the bears to the North Cascades Ecosystem. Grizzly bears are listed as a threatened species under the ESA.
The U.S. Secretary of the Interior announced last July that a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for grizzly restoration developed over the past six years would be shelved. The announcement was made at a meeting in Omak hosted by Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, who has opposed restoring the bears to historical habitat in the North Cascades.
“The Trump administration’s purely political decision to axe this conservation program was a massive blow to the grizzly bear recovery program,” said Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re hopeful that our lawsuit will put grizzly bears in the North Cascades back on the road to recovery.”
The North Cascades Ecosystem is a vast area encompassing 9,800 square miles in North Central Washington and 3,800 square miles in British Columbia. The U.S. portion stretches from the Canadian border south to Interstate 90, and includes all of the North Cascades National Park, and most of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forests (including the Methow Valley Ranger District).
The North Cascades Ecosystem was identified by the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1997 as one of six possible grizzly bear recovery zones in the United States. Scientists say the area has prime habitat capable of supporting about 280 grizzly bears. There have been no verified sightings of grizzly bears in the Washington portion of the ecosystem since 1996.
Planning for grizzly recovery in the North Cascades has been underway for more than a decade. The draft EIS, which details plans for restoring a population of 200 bears, was released in 2017. The plans call for transplanting bears into the North Cascades from other areas with viable populations, such as Montana and British Columbia. The EIS proposes three timelines for achieving a self-sustaining population of 200 bears – a process that could take 25 to 100 years.
“Grizzly bears once thrived in the North Cascades and they could again, but only if the feds do their job,” said Zaccardi. “Abandonment of efforts to restore bears to this area would ensure the local extinction of grizzlies in Washington. We’re not going to let that happen.”
The Center for Biological Diversity’s lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. The Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service have 60 days to respond.