Federal efforts to reintroduce grizzly bears to Washington’s North Cascade Mountains apparently are on hold and it’s unclear if agencies are evaluating further public comment as they were directed.
“It is our understanding that this proposal will not move forward by the end of September,” Will Boyington, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., told Capital Press, Sept. 10.
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. On March 23, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spoke in favor of grizzly recovery at 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.”
On July 19, the House passed an Interior appropriations bill including a Newhouse amendment denying funding for Interior to transport grizzlies into the North Cascades. The Senate passed it with changes and it is now in a House-Senate conference committee.
On Aug. 3, Newhouse said he was very pleased with a new statement from the Interior Department that USFWS and NPS are “continuing analysis” of grizzly restoration and, in response to requests from stakeholders and Newhouse, would take “appropriate additional time to consider and evaluate further stakeholder input to inform the planning and decision process.”
The department statement continued: “Public input, reliance on the best available science and coordination with affected communities, agencies and organizations will be critical before any decision is made.”
At that time and still now, Heather Swift, Interior Department press secretary, Rickerson and the NPS North Cascades office have no information about what’s happening regarding “continuing analysis,” and evaluation of “further stakeholder input.”
Jim DeTro, Okanogan County commissioner, said no one from the agencies has reached out to him nor Okanogan County ranchers, that he knows of, for more input.
Sarah Ryan, executive vice president of Washington Cattlemen’s Association, said the association and ranchers remain “adamantly opposed” to reintroduction of grizzlies and that it would be great if the Interior Department totally dropped the effort.