The U.S. Department of Interior probably will decide in the first quarter of 2020 whether to import grizzly bears into Washington’s North Cascades, U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash, says.
Rob Wallace, the assistant secretary of Interior for fish, wildlife and parks, who attended an Oct. 7 public meeting in Okanogan on the issue, could not be reached for comment.
Brad Thompson, acting state supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said he had no new information.
For several years, USFWS and the National Park Service have been considering alternatives for introducing up to 25 grizzlies or more in the North Cascades over five to 10 years. All but a no-action alternative have a goal of establishing an eventual population of 200 over approximately 25 years.
“Because the Northern Cascades Ecosystem grizzly bears are at risk of local extinction, action is needed at this time to avoid the permanent loss of grizzly bears in the NCE,” the plan states.
However, the document goes on to say the only four confirmed sightings in the NCE in the last decade were all in British Columbia and that they do not meet the accepted definition of a population — two adult females with cubs or one adult female tracked through two litters.
Proponents say there is sufficient habitat, that people and grizzlies co-exist in other places and that grizzlies are needed for a better ecosystem.
Opponents say habitat is insufficient to support that number of bears and that grizzlies would become a problem for recreationists, ranchers and orchardists as they look for food.
Newhouse has been a strong opponent, saying another apex predator would threaten families, wildlife and livestock. He said it also violates a state law, RCW 77.12.035, that directs the state Fish and Wildlife Commission to protect grizzlies and encourage natural regeneration but prohibits their importation. The federal agencies say federal law supersedes state law.
Newhouse asked for an additional public comment period in 2018 saying the federal agencies ignored the Okanogan in a 2017 comment period.
This year’s public comment period ended Oct. 24.
Newhouse said he knows the Department of the Interior has been reviewing all the comments and is “working hard to come up with a decision as soon as possible.”
“My request has been for the agencies to listen to the voice of the people most impacted,” Newhouse told Capital Press on Dec. 3.
“Because of the volume of comments, it takes time, but that’s exactly what they are doing. I hope they listen to the voices. If the meeting was any indication, people there overwhelmingly don’t want it.”