By Tim Mann
After more than a year’s absence from the news, grizzly restoration in the North Cascades is getting attention again. Those opposed to complying with the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by restoring this threatened species didn’t get the results they wanted during the 2017 comment period and have now convinced political allies to reopen public comment on the draft restoration plan and environmental impact statement (EIS).
Protecting and restoring birds and other wildlife and their necessary habitat are at the heart of Audubon’s mission. The ESA and the Congressionally-mandated mission of the National Park Service similarly call for protection of natural habitat and restoration of species either extirpated or facing extinction. Although the grizzly was listed under the ESA in 1975, and North Cascades was long ago designated a recovery area for the great bear, without funding it was only in 2014 that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and National Park Service began writing a restoration plan. Organizations and individuals supporting the effort to return this key species formed “Friends of the North Cascades Grizzly Bear.” Given the relevance to Audubon’s mission, Skagit and other chapters joined this group.
In 2017 there was a lengthy comment period during which Skagit Audubon weighed in on the draft restoration plan and EIS, supporting Alternative C. Skagit Audubon’s letter said, “Just as we support the restoration of the fisher to this ecosystem, we want the grizzly bear to again fill the ecological role it had for thousands of years.” The draft plan states, “Alternative C (Incremental Restoration) would seek to release up to 5 to 7 grizzly bears per year for 5 to 10 years to achieve an initial population of 25 bears intended to reestablish reproduction in the North Cascades Ecosystem. It is anticipated that (this) would result in the achievement of the restoration goal of 200 bears within approximately 60 to 100 years.”
Despite this proposal’s modest scope and lengthy time scale, local elected officials in several counties, particularly Chelan, Okanogan, and Skagit, chose to use grizzly restoration as an opportunity to bash the ESA and national management of public lands. It’s easy to score political points playing on people’s notions of an animal about which they lack accurate information but will readily hate and fear. The recent politically-driven reopening of the public comment period after 126,000 very largely pro-restoration comments in 2017 signals an unwillingness to stop using this issue. The ESA is constantly under attack by people with no heart for preserving natural areas and wildlife or simply angry that certain lands lie beyond their jurisdiction and off-limits to resource extraction.
For this re-opened comment period, the draft restoration plan and EIS are identical to the one on which many of you commented in 2017. Those comments remain valid. Nonetheless, if the ESA is to be upheld and the North Cascades are to ever again have their full complement of species, it’s important to send individual comment letters briefly describing why grizzly restoration matters to you and supporting one of the plan’s action alternatives, such as Alternative C. Remember that if this approach to supplementing the tiny existing population (if any) of grizzlies is implemented, several human generations will pass before a viable population again inhabits the wild North Cascades, an area the size of Massachusetts. Generations from now, sighting a grizzly in these mountains will still be a rare event indeed.
For background information and instructions on commenting, go to https://www.northcascadesgrizzly.org/ (Friends of the North Cascades Grizzly Bear) and https://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=327&projectID=44144&documentID=97321. The deadline is October 24, 2019.
Read about other conservation issues on the Skagit Audubon website: https://skagitaudubon.org/conservation/notes.