POLITICS

Trump Admin Scraps Plans To Reintroduce Grizzlies To Northern Washington

The restoration effort, which the president's first Interior chief supported, called for returning some 200 grizzly bears to the wilds of the North Cascades.

The Trump administration is terminating plans to reintroduce grizzly bears in the North Cascades region of northern Washington, citing concerns from cattle ranchers and other locals.

The move is the latest is a years-long fight over the prospect of returning the iconic apex predator to this part of its historic range. The plan, first launched by the Obama administration in 2015, called for eventually reintroducing some 200 grizzlies to ecosystem. There has not been a sighting of a grizzly in the U.S. portion of the Cascades since 1996, and it is estimated that fewer than 10 bears remain in the 9,800-square-mile ecosystem. It is considered the most imperiled grizzly population in North America. 

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced the agency’s decision during a roundtable in Omak, Washington. It will halt preparation of an environmental review related to the species restoration plan.

“The Trump Administration is committed to being a good neighbor, and the people who live and work in north central Washington have made their voices clear that they do not want grizzly bears reintroduced into the North Cascades,” Bernhardt said in a press statement. “Grizzly bears are not in danger of extinction, and Interior will continue to build on its conservation successes managing healthy grizzly bear populations across their existing range.”

A juvenile grizzly bear wanders the grounds near the Fishing Village Visitor Center in Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park.
A juvenile grizzly bear wanders the grounds near the Fishing Village Visitor Center in Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park.

Bernhardt’s predecessor, former Interior chief Ryan Zinke, had revived the Obama-era effort in March 2018, saying at the time that “restoring the grizzly bear to the North Cascades ecosystem is the American conservation ethic come to life” and its disappearance from the area “would disturb the ecosystem and rob the region of an icon.” His surprise support outraged local cattle ranchers who argue the existence of the animal (which is native to the region) would pose a devastating threat to their livelihood, as NPR reported.

Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), a longtime opponent of the grizzly reintroduction effort, was present at Tuesday’s roundtable and applauded the administration’s final decision. 

“Homeowners, farmers, ranchers and small business owners in our rural communities were loud and clear: We do not want grizzly bears in north central Washington,” he said in a statement. 

Tens of thousands of grizzlies once roamed the Lower 48, from California to the Great Plains, but their populations plummeted due to hunting, development and habitat loss. Today, an estimated 1,500 bears are spread across portions of Montana, Idaho, Washington and Wyoming. The North Cascades is considered prime grizzly habitat and it is one of the largest contiguous swaths of federal land outside of Alaska.

Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, called Tuesday’s announcement “truly disappointing.” 

“Grizzly bears only occupy less than 5% of their historic range, and the North Cascades presents prime habitat for grizzly bears,” she said. “Their recovery there is critical to the overall recovery of grizzly bears in the U.S.”

Tuesday’s action comes two years after the grizzly bear population in and around Yellowstone National Park lost federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. At the time, federal authorities estimated the population there to be around 700 bears ― up from as few as 136 in 1975 ― and said multiple factors indicate it “is healthy and will be sustained into the future.” In its final rule, the Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that “the effects of climate change do not constitute a threat to the [Yellowstone] grizzly bear [population] now, nor are they anticipated to in the foreseeable future.” But the seeds of white bark pine, a high-elevation tree that has been severely impacted by disease, insects and climate change, are an important food source for Yellowstone grizzlies.

Last month, the Trump administration finalized new rules to lift an Obama-era ban on extreme predator control tactics in national preserves in Alaska ― a move that once again allows hunters to, among other things, lure brown and black bears with bait and shoot bear cubs and wolf pups in their dens.

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