OKANOGAN, Wash. — Federal and state agencies are looking at restoring grizzly bears in the North Cascades, but Okanogan County commissioners don’t like it.
The U.S. Department of the Interior announced Feb. 13 that it will hold a series of informational open houses in coming weeks to help it determine whether to take an active role in grizzly restoration.
Conservation Northwest and the National Parks Conservation Association issued a press release saying they “were thrilled” with the announcement because it’s the “first formal step in recovery of an important native species on the brink of disappearing.”
But Okanogan County Commissioner Jim DeTro said that other than “some warm and fuzzies in the Methow Valley,” probably a majority of county residents oppose it.
Commissioners reminded the agencies, in the fall, of a state law passed a decade or more ago preventing state funds from being used for grizzly bear recovery, DeTro said. Three weeks ago, the agencies visited commissioners to inform them of their plans and “did not get a warm reception,” he said.
“Every agency is so green and sensitive to bear huggers. My question is what about states’ rights,” he said. “This is one more thing they’re trying to shove down our throats. It’s one more endangered species that will ruin our lifestyle, custom, culture and economic stability.”
The National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife have been pressured by environmentalists to pursue grizzly restoration, DeTro said.
“We are very concerned about recovery of an additional apex predator in the North Cascades. Ranchers would be unable to have any lethal take for protection of livestock,” said Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association.
A grizzly “wreaked havoc” on Okanogan’s cattle industry in 1948 and cattlemen fear they could again, DeTro said.
The state has created a “Jurassic Park” with its wolf policies that has led to “domestic terrorists” threatening death to ranchers in Northeastern Washington, DeTro said. Wolves have been seen eating in dumpsters in Twisp and attacking dogs on back porches on the Twisp River, he said. Residents handle situations themselves and don’t talk about it, he said.
The USFWS listed grizzlies as threatened in the lower 48 states in 1975. The species was listed as endangered by the state of Washington in 1980.
An Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee identified 9,800 square miles in the North Cascades from Cle Elum to the Canadian border and 3,800 square miles north of the border as adequate grizzly bear habitat in 1991. The committee decided, the same year, to recover grizzlies there.
Restoration could include moving grizzlies into the area from other places in the U.S. and Canada, according to the Interior department. A few grizzlies have been sighted in the Canadian portion of the ecosystem in recent years but not on the U.S. side, the department said.
The open houses and a public comment period through March 26 is important in ensuring all issues are considered, NPS said. NPS and USFWS will hold informational open houses:
• 5 to 7:30 p.m., March 3, Red Barn upper meeting room, Winthrop.
• 5 to 7:30 p.m., March 4, Okanogan PUD meeting room, Okanogan.
• 6 to 8:30 p.m., March 5, Chelan County PUD Auditorium, Wenatchee
• 5 to 7:30 p.m., March 9, Putnam Centennial Center meeting room, Cle Elum.
• 5 to 7:30 p.m., March 10, Seattle Pacific University Bertona Classroom 1, Seattle.
• 5 to 7:30 p.m., March 11, Bellingham Central Library lecture room, Bellingham.
Additionally, the public is invited to submit written comments through March 26 at: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/NCEG. Comments also may be mailed or delivered to: Superintendent’s Office, North Cascades National Park Service Complex, 810 State Route 20, Sedro Woolley, WA, 98284.