OKANOGAN, Wash. — Whether federal agencies proceed with plans to restore grizzly bears to the North Cascades may depend on how many opponents attend an Oct. 7 public meeting, the president of the Okanogan County Farm Bureau says.
“The upper management in the U.S. Department of Interior is looking for a good reason not to do this (not to reintroduce grizzlies). That’s the implication from Congressman Dan Newhouse,” says Dick Ewing, Okanogan County Farm Bureau president.
On the other hand, the American Farm Bureau Federation considers the current reopening of a public comment period a “serious attempt to move forward,” Ewing said.
Whether it is serious or a procedural step before shutting plans down, Ewing said he’s not sure.
“According to Newhouse, if we get 500 or more (opponents at the meeting) the agencies will seriously consider not doing it. If we only get 50 to 100, probably not,” he said.
The National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will hold a public meeting in the Okanogan County Fairgrounds Agriplex, 175 Rodeo Trail Road, in Okanogan at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 7. Doors will open at 5 p.m. People will be allowed to speak for up to 2 minutes on the agencies grizzly bear restoration plan.
People have until Oct. 24 to view and comment online on the Draft North Cascades Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan/EIS at: https://parkplanning.nps.gov/grizzlydeis.
Newhouse, R-Wash., whose district includes the eastern side of the North Cascades, opposes the plan, saying introducing an apex predator threatens families, wildlife and livestock. Last year, Newhouse asked for an additional public comment period saying local communities had been ignored in a 2017 comment period.
In a Sept. 11 statement, Newhouse thanked U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt for listening to his demands for an in-person public comment opportunity.
“I strongly encourage the people of Central Washington to attend this meeting in Okanogan in order to voice your opinion and put this proposal to rest, once and for all,” Newhouse said.
Jim DeTro, an Okanogan County commissioner, said a lot of ranchers, orchardists, recreationists and residents are opposed to the plan and will attend the meeting.
“Commissioners wrote a letter a month ago or so not just saying no, but hell no,” DeTro said. “We have 23,000 acres of tree fruit and grizzly experts have told us the only thing bears want more than honey is tree fruit. So they won’t stay up in the high country. They’ll be right down here in our back yards.”
More hikers and recreationists on both sides of the mountains don’t want grizzlies in the lands they use, DeTro said.
Black bears are known to eat fruit in orchards and orchardists say it’s hard to get pickers when bear scat is found in orchards, Ewing said.
Recently reintroduced wolves are thinning out wildlife and going after livestock, Ewing said, “so we don’t need another apex predator here.”