The on-again, off-again federal effort to reintroduce grizzly bears into Washington’s North Cascade Mountains is on again.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service reopened the public comment period on the Draft North Cascades Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan Environmental Impact Statement on July 25. It will remain open through Oct. 24.
All comments previously received on the Draft EIS during the Jan. 12 through April 28, 2017, comment period will still be considered, the agencies said.
U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., whose district includes the eastern side of the North Cascades, opposes the plan and last year asked for an additional public comment period because local communities had been ignored.
Last week, Newhouse issued a statement saying he remains opposed to transferring grizzly bears into the North Cascades.
“Introducing an additional apex predator to an area that is populated by families and livestock is extremely concerning, but I am glad the Department of Interior is seeking real, local comments on this issue,” Newhouse said. “I encourage people of Central Washington to make their voices heard loud and clear so the administration will end this misguided proposal once and for all.”
Robb Krehbiel, of the Defenders of Wildlife, said the environmental group is pleased to see grizzly recovery efforts back on track and that more than 126,000 people previously commented, and 80% of Washington voters favor grizzly recovery.
“Communities can thrive alongside these bruins. It is time for Interior to finish the job and bring back the bears,” he said.
Danny DeFranco, executive director of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association, said the organization remains opposed.
“The state has showed the public how it is managing wolves and it’s not doing a very good job of it. Grizzlies would not only be a challenge to livestock producers but a pretty significant public safety issue,” DeFranco said.
Oregon Cattlemen’s Association has urged members to submit comments opposing the plan. Jerome Rosa, executive director, said rural communities and ranchers already are “overwhelmed by exploding populations of gray wolves” and that it would be “inappropriate” to add grizzly bears.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association echoed those comments and said it is “fervently opposed.”
The Obama administration proposed the DEIS. It was opposed by Okanogan ranchers and residents and heralded by environmental groups.
In March 2017, Newhouse wrote a letter to NPS opposing the plan, citing inadequate local input and encouraging federal deferral to state and local authorities on grizzly bear management.
In December, 2017, the Trump administration halted the process.
On March 23, 2018, then Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke restarted it and spoke in favor of grizzly recovery in the North Cascades at the NPS office in Sedro Woolley.
On April 12, Newhouse sent Zinke a letter warning of grave impacts to ranchers and residents if grizzlies were brought into the North Cascades and imploring Zinke to “stop ignoring the local community.”
In June, Eric Rickerson, Washington state supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said USFWS and the National Park Service would announce a decision on reintroducing grizzly bears into the North Cascades at the end of September and the decision would be finalized by the end of the year.
Later, a Fiscal Year 2019 Interior appropriations bill was passed with a Newhouse amendment denying funding for Interior to transport grizzlies into the North Cascades.
On Aug. 3, 2018, Newhouse said he was pleased by a new Interior guidance that NPS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would seek further public comment and continue analysis.
“Public input, reliance on the best available science and coordination with affected communities, agencies and organizations will be critical before any decision is made,” Interior said in the guidance statement.