US draft plans to return grizzly bears killed by hunters to land

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The federal government has developed a plan to bring grizzly bears back to Washington state’s North Cascades, the next step in reintroducing the endangered species to an area where hunters wiped them out decades ago.

Grizzlies once played an important role in the vast forests, mountains, and valleys of north-central Washington. Today, the North Cascades is one of the last remaining areas in the Lower 48 for grizzly bears. U.S. government agencies are considering whether to start a population there, which could grow to 200 individuals within 100 years.

Recovering the grizzly bears is the culmination of decades of efforts to reintroduce them into the ecosystem. The grizzly bear is one of six locations in the country where federal biologists are aiming to restore decimated populations.

“We’ve come further than ever before,” said Chris Serveen, who served as grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 1981 to 2016 and is now retired. “It has to end.”

The bear’s return would be a major step for the conservation of the species and would benefit the ecosystem.

It would also have profound implications for Native American tribes, where grizzly bears are culturally important. Tribes and conservation groups say bears live on this land. Grizzly bears were relocated from populated areas such as the Yellowstone area to the North Cascades every summer until the population was large enough.

The years-long effort faces hurdles. Both agencies’ last efforts ended in 2020 when President Donald Trump’s administration scrapped the effort. Federal biologists are hopeful that their new proposal can gain support from local and political opponents who have voiced opposition to the plan, although Republican lawmakers have stepped up their opposition to the latest plan.

“This is a very divisive issue,” said Skagit County Commissioner Lisa Janicki. Skagit County is one of the rural areas on the edge of the ecosystem, and some business and landowners are concerned about bears’ impact on agriculture. Timber and Agriculture.

Now, the administration has proposed a pathway that would give federal agencies more flexibility in moving, trapping and responding to bears when they stray from federal lands or cause problems. This is an attempt to alleviate safety concerns and respond to public feedback received by the agency. last time.

For example, if a grizzly bear wanders into a neighborhood, government experts would have more leeway to stop or relocate it, said Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Andrew Laval. To give government agencies more leeway, the bears will be designated as an experimental population with special rules.

Grizzlies once thrived in these wilderness areas. The US may bring them back.

This option and two others (bringing in bears without special flexibility or not bringing in bears at all) are included in the draft plan and environmental impact statement released last month by the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service. It is included in conjunction with the proposed designation rules. Bears as an experimental population.

The North Cascades ecosystem (6.1 million largely undeveloped acres of wildlife, rainforest, glaciers, and meadows) was built in the 19th and 20th centuries when thousands of hides were built as a regional trading post. It was home to grizzly bears for centuries before being exterminated by hunters. .

According to Sarveen, when grizzly bears were designated as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act in 1975, there were very few left in the North Cascades. The last individual he was discovered in 1996.

Work to investigate their recovery began in the 1980s. Since the 1990s, the Parks and Wildlife Service has managed land in the North Cascades as if it were home to grizzly bears.

“After 30 years of protecting and waiting, they never made it here,” North Cascades National Park wildlife biologist Jason Ransom said in a pre-recorded National Park Service presentation. There wasn’t,” he said.

Under both reintroduction options in the draft plan, the federal government would seek to establish a grizzly population of 25 by bringing three to seven grizzlies to the North Cascades each year for five to 10 years. . Bears reproduce slowly, so it will take between 60 and 100 years for there to be 200 bears in the North Cascades.

Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Andrew Laval said the plan had received more than 2,200 comments as of last week, and agency officials plan to meet with Washington residents at public meetings this month and next. It is said that The agencies are collecting public comments on draft plans and rules until Nov. 13, with final decisions expected in the spring.

Establishing special regulations for grizzly bears as an experimental population is the agency’s preferred route. Conservation groups have praised the option as a compromise.

“We feel there may be light at the end of the tunnel for grizzly bears in the North Cascades,” said Graham Taylor, Northwest program manager for the National Park Conservation Association. “But at the same time, it’s still just the beginning of something.”

Scott Schuyler, policy representative for the Upper Skagit Tribe, said he supports making the bears an experimental population “if it ultimately achieves the ultimate goal” of reintroducing grizzly bears. “We are hopeful that things will progress,” he said.

“We feel this inherent genetic need to protect organisms in the environment and represent them, especially those that have been lost,” Schuyler said. He noted that the country’s people once coexisted with grizzly bears and, like bears, were under threat of removal by settlers. “The survival of the grizzly bear is, in a sense, the survival of our culture, our history.”

There was still opposition from those concerned about grizzly bears encroaching on local residents’ property. Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse, who represents parts of central Washington, recently introduced a bill calling for the repeal of the proposed plan and rules.

“Central Washington residents have consistently expressed concern and opposition,” Newhouse said in an Oct. 11 statement on Platform X, “yet unelected officials… They continue to try to impose these predators on society.”

Mr. Newhouse’s office did not respond to questions from The Washington Post. In addition to asking the agency to withdraw the proposal, he also asked for an extension of the public comment period, saying it ignores residents who “don’t want a grizzly bear in their backyard,” wrote X. .

Federal biologists don’t expect frequent bear-human conflicts, but grizzly bears could wander onto private property and come into contact with livestock or humans.

The region is already home to animals such as black bears and wolves, and officials say people in many parts of the country are taking precautions, such as carrying pepper spray and securing food when hiking and camping. He noted that they take routine steps to protect themselves from grizzly bears.

Some noted that new proposals could change their minds. Janicki, the Skagit County commissioner, recalled receiving “significant and strong opposition” in 2017 from people in rural counties worried about bears leaving federal lands. Although she is concerned about small farmers, she said the experimental population rules have changed her position.

He said last month that the proposal was “a great compromise.” “If we can get it, [the] Once the experimental population is established, we hope it can coexist with bringing bears back to the area. ”



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