Park Service will study restoring grizzlies to North Cascades

Posted Nov 30, 2014 by Karen Graham
Grizzly bears in America's Northwest only exist in stories and legend. The last confirmed sighting was in 2010, when a hiker photographed one in the North Cascades. That may soon change, depending on the results of a three-year study by the Park Service.
A grizzly bear sow with her cub.
A grizzly bear sow with her cub.
Denali National Park and Preserve
The grizzly bear's scientific name, Ursus arctos horribilis, describes the fear and terror early explorers felt when confronting one of these animals. Weighing almost half-a-ton and standing over six-feet, the grizzly can run as fast as a racehorse. But unlike the horse, a grizzly has fearsome teeth and a bite so strong it could crush a bowling ball, and claws up to four inches long.
Today, the grizzly bear is largely extinct in most parts of the United States. It is believed that as many as 100,000 once roamed the western part of the country. But trapping for pelts, bounty hunting and a shrinking habitat have all but pushed the grizzly bear to the edge of extinction. Biologists estimate fewer than 20 "ghost bears" still roam the North Cascade ecosystem, a 10,000 square-mile area of wilderness stretching from the Canadian border to Interstate 90.
For decades, the idea of reintroducing grizzlies back into the North Cascades was little more than a dream. A lack of $700,000 in funding needed for a multi-year environmental impact statement (EIS) kept the idea on hold. But on Nov. 30, the National Park Service (NPS) announced it would launch the EIS this fall to evaluate the options available to boost grizzly numbers.
“This is huge news for the Pacific Northwest and for grizzly bears,” Joe Scott of Conservation Northwest told the Seattle Times. The group has been pushing to restore grizzlies for 25 years. “This is the turning point.”
The decision to embark on the three-year EIS has met with controversy. Environmentalists, animal rights and pro-grizzly groups are of course, delighted over the announcement. But not everyone is happy. Sharing the woods with a half-ton animal is not your average hiker's dream. Many ranchers are already trying to deal with the return of federally protected wolves in eastern Washington. Now they worry about another endangered predator causing land-use restrictions in bear territory as well as dead livestock.
The three-year study will work to find the best possible solution to restoring the grizzly to the North Cascade ecosystem, and will involve extensive debate, said Chris Servheen, a grizzly-bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “It may not be universally agreed upon at the end, but at least people will know it’s not something that was cooked up in a backroom,” he said.