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Bring grizzly bears back to the North Cascades, survey finds

Saving grizzly bears in the North Cascades is widely supported among Washington state voters, according to survey results released Monday, June 6.

That includes voters, like those in Whatcom County, who live around the ecosystem.

California-based Tulchin Research conducted the survey May 19-22 of 600 registered voters in six different parts of the state, including east and west of the Cascades, where the mountain range seems to separate the state politically.

It was done for Friends of the North Cascades Grizzly, a new coalition that wanted to gauge people’s receptivity and feelings about wild places and grizzly bears

A total of 80 percent of voters surveyed supported helping the declining population of grizzly bears in the North Cascades recover, while 13 percent were opposed.

The support crossed gender, political spectrum and age, according to survey results.

It was even higher among voters surrounding the North Cascades Ecosystem — Chelan, Kittitas, Okanogan, Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom counties — where 86 percent supported helping grizzlies recover and 13 percent opposed it.

“What surprised me about the results is there was overwhelming support for grizzly bear recovery in Washington,” said Elizabeth Ruther, a biologist and northwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife.

“All of it is supportive, which is really exciting,” she added, of survey results.

Defenders of Wildlife is part of the coalition, which includes scientists, conservation groups, local businesses, tribes, and rural and urban residents.

Edge of extinction

The survey is being released as federal agencies consider restoring a self-sustaining grizzly bear population to the U.S. side of the North Cascades, where they are on the edge of extinction.

The U.S. side of the ecosystem includes wilderness areas, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

A proposed plan, or draft environmental impact statement, for grizzly bear restoration could be out by late summer or fall.

“I hope that it spurs them to action in a personal way and in a vocal way for the recovery process,” Ruther said of the public’s reaction to survey results and coalition efforts.

Survey participants also were asked, as recreationists, whether they supported helping the declining population of grizzly bears in the North Cascades recover. Seventy-nine percent of them, including those who hunt and fish, hike and camp, said they did support it. Thirteen percent were opposed.

On another question, 91 percent agreed that grizzly bears were a vital part of America’s wilderness and natural heritage, while 7 percent disagreed.

Also, 85 percent of voters agreed that helping the North Cascades grizzly bear population recover “should be science-based and led by expert biologists.”

The survey results also are being released during Washington state’s Bear Awareness Week, which ends June 12.

“For me, more than ever, we’ve come to a point in time where virtually every species on the face of the planet and our future depends on us,” Ruther said. “It’s our choice whether we’re going to make space for them or not.”

Learn more

More on grizzly bear recovery efforts in the North Cascades and elsewhere are at:

▪ nps.gov/noca/grizzly.htm, North Cascades National Park to read about the environmental impacts of restoring a self-sustaining grizzly bear population in the North Cascades ecosystem.

▪ igbconline.org, Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.

▪ northcascadesgrizzly.org, Friends of the North Cascades Grizzly Bear.

▪ defenders.org, Defenders of Wildlife. This site also includes information on how to minimize risks when in the back country with bears, including carrying bear spray.

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