Efforts to reintroduce grizzly bears into the North Cascades Ecosystem, which includes the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, have been halted, according to a story by the Missoulian newspaper.
North Cascades National Park Superintendent Karen Taylor-Goodrich told the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee Dec. 13 in Missoula, Mont., that her staff had been asked by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s office to stop working on an environmental impact statement.
“We were in the process of evaluating public comment,” Taylor-Goodrich told the Missoulian. “We’re in year three of the process, and all the public scoping has been done. The draft EIS went out for public review in spring, and we’ve received about 127,000 comments.”
Jack Oelfke, the chief of natural and cultural resources at North Cascades National Park, told the Yakima Herald that efforts to return the bruins to the region are on hold indefinitely as he awaits additional instructions from the Department of Interior and the two lead agencies on the project – the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
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The order also stalls discussion with Canadian wildlife managers who oversee similar grizzly recovery in British Columbia, according to a story on capitalpress.com.
In addition to the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and the North Cascades National Park, the North Cascades Ecosystem includes the Okanogan-Wenatchee national forests, totaling about 9,800 square miles, and an additional 3,800 square miles in British Columbia.
There are an estimated five to 10 grizzly bears in the U.S. portion of the region, which the IGBC told the Missoulian was “the most at-risk grizzly bear population in the U.S. today.” Another six grizzlies are supported in the Canadian portion of the ecosystem.
Conservation Northwest, a Seattle-based regional conservation organization that has an office in Bellingham (1208 Bay Street), has been supportive of grizzly bear recovery in the region. It released a statement on the move Monday.
“We are extremely disappointed that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the Trump Administration are halting North Cascades grizzly bear recovery work, siding with the local extinction of this iconic native species over the strong majority of Washingtonians who support their recovery,” Chase Gunnell, Communications Director for Conservation Northwest said in the release. “Equally frustrating is that the many years of science, public education and significant taxpayer dollars that have gone into grizzly bear recovery in our region are not being taken seriously by this administration.”
The Missoulian said Interior Department officials did not respond to a request last week for comment about the North Cascades work stoppage.
Here’s a look at some of what is being said on social media about the move: