Feds draft plan to restore grizzlies to North Cascades

Federal officials released a draft plan last week for restoring grizzly bears to the North Cascades. The state of Washington may be constrained in its support of alternatives.

Following two years of public process, the plan presents four options, ranging from taking no action to varying efforts of capturing bears from other locations and transplanting them to 9,800 square miles of mostly public land surrounding North Cascades National Park.

Grizzly bears once roamed that rugged area in Washington, but only a few have been confirmed in recent decades.

The grizzly bear was listed as a threatened species in the contiguous U.S. in 1975. The species was listed as endangered by the state of Washington in 1980.

Two of the draft plan alternatives set goals of approximately 200 bears within 60 to 100 years, while a third expedited option expects to restore 200 animals in 25 years.

"The speed of the recovery is related to the number of bears captured elsewhere and brought in," said Bob Everitt, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's Northern Puget Sound Region manager.

The state agency has not yet commented on the federal recovery plan, but would not be able to support bringing in grizzly bears to speed up recovery, he said.

The Washington Legislature passed a law more than three decades ago that supports grizzly bear recovery but prohibits state agencies from importing bears from out of state.

The state officially supports letting bears come in naturally, he said.

"The state could not be involved in releasing grizzlies, but that would not preclude the federal agencies from doing it on national forests or national park land," Everitt said.

The National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not pick a preferred alternative at this stage. Instead they're seeking input over the next several weeks on what steps they should take to restore grizzly bears to their natural range.

Release of the draft Environmental Impact Statement is the latest step for a public recovery process required by the Endangered Species Act. Work on the EIS officially began in 2015 after decades of urging by federal and local land managers, scientists, tribal nations and wildlife and environmental organizations.

The 60-day public comment period for the draft EIS will include eight public meetings held around the North Cascades region.

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