Courtesy of National Park Service/Jake Bortscheller
The federal government should abandon plans to turn loose grizzly bears in the North Cascades, according to the Washington Farm Bureau.
Ranchers and farmers already have enough trouble with coyotes, cougars and wolves, the bureau’s director of government relations, Tom Davis, said Wednesday.
“It’s death by a thousand cuts. An active grizzly population is another assault on farm families,” he said.
The Farm Bureau submitted comments this week on a proposal by the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife to introduce grizzly bears over 9,800 square miles across seven counties. The last confirmed sighting of a grizzly bear in the region was in 1996.
Restoring grizzlies would allow Pacific Northwest residents to again experience grizzly bears in their native habitat, according to a preliminary federal report on the proposal’s economic and environmental consequences.
The report says the harm to agriculture and livestock production would be “inconsequential,” especially since ranchers would be eligible for compensation. The Farm Bureau, however, says its members nearest where the bears would be released are concerned about their safety, livelihoods and communities.
“Every time a ranch family or family leaves it’s another attack on the local economy. And it just does not make sense for the rest of an economy based on outdoor recreation,” Davis said.
Washington law forbids the state from importing grizzly bears. Nevertheless, federal official have proposed trapping grizzlies in Montana and Canada and releasing them on federal lands in Washington.
Another option, favored by the Farm Bureau, is the “no-action alternative.” Since the agencies say grizzly bears are unlikely to return to Washington on their own, the Farm Bureau is essentially asking federal officials to give up returning grizzly bears to the North Cascades.
“Absolutely,” Davis said.
The agencies will take comments on the draft environmental impact statement until April 28.
Under one scenario, federal wildlife managers would release up to 10 bears over two summers, watch for two years and either release 10 more bears or take a more-aggressive course. That would mean releasing five to seven bears a year for five to 10 years. The goal would be to have 200 bears within 60 to 100 years.
In a more aggressive option, wildlife managers would not cap the number of bears released each year. The goal would be to have 200 bears within roughly 25 years.
More than 220,000 cattle graze in the recovery region, according to the report. Even with 200 bears, only one cow and two sheep a year would be attacked by grizzles, and maybe not that many, according to an estimate in the study.
“I think we were hearing the same thing about wolves before they were firmly entrenched in the state,” Davis said.
In 2011, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife estimated that once the state had 100 wolves, there would be two to 12 confirmed attacks on cattle each year. The state reached that mark last year, and WDFW confirmed 10 depredations.
The number does not include five probable depredations or missing livestock. A rancher estimated losing approximately 75 cattle to wolves last summer. Another rancher estimated losing 300 sheep to wolves in 2014.
If bears attack livestock, federal and state wildlife managers would work with ranchers to minimize conflict, according to the report.
Davis said the Farm Bureau is concerned ranchers will be forced off public grazing lands to make way for bears.
“That would have a greater impact on a producer than a dead cow,” he said.