Open houses a chance to comment on possibility of grizzly restoration

The public will have a chance in early March to weigh in on the possibility of restoring grizzly bears to the North Cascades.

The National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will hold a series of open houses as part of the process to develop a grizzly bear restoration environmental impact statement.

The meetings will be the first opportunity for public involvement in the development of the impact statement.

The goal of the statement is to determine whether the agencies will take an active role in restoring the grizzly to the North Cascades ecosystem, said Denise M. Shultz, chief of interpretation and education for the North Cascades National Park Service Complex.

“Public comment at this stage is critical to ensure that all issues are considered,” NPS Pacific West Regional Director Chris Lehnertz said in a prepared statement.

The announcement of the meetings was met with support from conservation groups.

“Maintaining and recovering grizzly bear populations in and around North Cascades National Park protects this great natural legacy for generations to come,” Rob Smith, Northwest Regional Director for the National Park Conservation Association, said in a statement. “The animals have historically helped make this national park a spectacular, diverse piece of wild America, and that’s worth protecting.”

“We encourage anyone who loves the Pacific Northwest’s wild animals and wild places to speak out in favor of restoring the grizzly bear in the North Cascades,” Chase Gunnell of Bellingham-based Conservation Northwest, said in a news release. “Our hope is someday soon the North Cascades will be made even wilder by the presence of a healthy grizzly bear population.”

In 1975, the Fish and Wildlife Service listed grizzly bears as a threatened species in the Lower 48. The species was listed as endangered by Washington in 1980.

“The Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan calls on us to fully consider the restoration of the grizzly bear in the North Cascades, and this process will ensure we solicit the public for their input before putting any plan into action,” Fish and Wildlife Pacific Regional Director Robyn Thorson said in a statement.

The North Cascades ecosystem covers 9,800 square miles in the United States and another 3,800 square miles in British Columbia. The U.S. portion includes North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

A few grizzly bears recently have been sighted in the Canadian part of the ecosystem, but it has been several years since a grizzly-bear sighting in the United States portion.