Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The U.S. Department of Interior has announced that the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will take more time to evaluate “further stakeholder input” regarding reintroduction of grizzly bears into the North Cascades of Washington.
It is unknown what that does to the agencies’ timeline of choosing a course of action by the end of September and finalizing the decision before year’s end.
Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., who has opposed reintroduction of grizzlies, issued a statement Aug. 3 saying he is very pleased with a decision by Interior to have NPS and USFWS take more time “to seek further stakeholder input in response to concerns I have raised on behalf of my constituents.”
“The communities most affected by plans are stakeholders whose voices must be taken into account and I appreciate the willingness of the involved federal agencies to listen,” Newhouse said.
On April 12, Newhouse sent Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke a letter warning of “grave impacts” to northcentral Washington residents if grizzlies are brought in and imploring Zinke to “stop ignoring the local community.”
He said his constituents were disrespectfully treated in the prior process and felt their concerns were not taken seriously.
At a public forum in Okanogan County in March of 2015, “many residents were not allowed to express their concerns and were treated in an unacceptable manner by the federal employees conducting the session,” Newhouse wrote.
Zinke’s March 23, 2018, announcement of support of grizzly bear recovery in the North Cascades “flies in the face” of his stated goals of “restoring trust and being a good neighbor,” Newhouse said.
The new Department of Interior guidance states the NPS and USFWS “are continuing analysis” of restoration plans.
“In response to requests from stakeholders, including specific inquiries from Congressman Dan Newhouse, the two bureaus are taking appropriate additional time to consider and evaluate further stakeholder input to inform the planning and decision making process. Public input, reliance on the best available science, and coordination with affected communities, agencies and organizations will be critical before any decision is made,” the guidance states.
Ann Froschauer, spokeswoman for the Washington office of USFWS, said she has no information as to whether there will be a new public comment period, how long that may last and whether the agencies will still plan to finalize a decision before year’s end.
Heather Swift, Interior Department press secretary, and Newhouse’s office also were unable to answer those questions.
A Newhouse amendment to an appropriation bill defunding Interior Department transportation of grizzly bears into the North Cascades passed the House, July 19.
Jim DeTro, an Okanogan County commissioner, has said that while some Okanogan County residents support grizzly reintroduction, the vast majority of residents including ranchers, back country outfitters and recreationists do not. They fear for their safety and safety of their cattle.
Ranchers were shocked, baffled and angered by Zinke’s position feeling betrayed by the Trump administration which they believed was on their side.
The Okanogan County Farm Bureau, the Washington Farm Bureau, several counties, the Washington and Oregon cattlemen’s associations, the Public Lands Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and other groups oppose reintroduction.