Renewed effort to bring grizzly bears to the North Cascades

SEATTLE -- Efforts are back on to bring grizzly bears to the North Cascades.

The federal government reopened public comment on the proposal after plans to reintroduce bears in Washington stalled last year.

Grizzly bears are native to North Cascades National Park, but their population was decimated by hunters through the mid-1900s. The last confirmed sighting in Washington was more than 20 years ago.

Experts think only about 10 bears remain.

"This is an extremely small and isolated population and if we don't bring grizzly bears into the ecosystem, we risk completely losing this species in Washington," said Robb Krehbiel with Defenders of Wildlife.

The federal government laid out some of the options in its environmental impact statement, which calls for grizzly bears from healthy populations in other state parks to be flown to the North Cascades by helicopter.

The goal for a self-sustaining population is 200 grizzly bears, which experts think could take 60 to 100 or more years to achieve. The North Cascades ecosystem, bears original stomping grounds, is around several Washington towns where some residents are pushing back.

Central Washington Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse on Thursday said he remains opposed to the transfer on behalf of his constituents. In a statement, he said, "Introducing an additional apex predator to an area that is populated by families and livestock is extremely concerning."

Several groups, including the Washington Cattlemen's Association, are against the plan to bring bears from other parks to the North Cascades. They fear the decision could hurt ranchers and question the state's ability to manage the predator and protect livestock. The group is critical of how the state is handling wolves.

"They're not quite capable of managing an apex predator like a grizzly bear," said Danny DeFranco of the Washington Cattlemen's Association. "We're not only concerned about our producers' bottom line and their families and everything else, but we also feel like grizzly bears will turn into a public safety issue."

"If you are out in the woods at a safe and respectful distance, seeing a grizzly bear is a really enriching experience," Krehbiel said. "There's just something about having that animal on the landscape with you and seeing this wildness and this ruggedness, and it's a reminder of what this place used to be like and what it still could be if we're able to change some of our behaviors and share the landscape with this species."

Proponents and opponents alike were surprised to hear the government was reopening public comment after nearly a year of silence. After a series of public meetings and open comment, the Department of Interior seemingly stopped pursuing the plan to reintroduce grizzlies last August.

You can comment on the proposal for the next 90 days.