Bringing grizzly bears back to the North Cascades is a way to restore the natural ecosystem and not something to fear.

Share story

NORTH Cascades National Park, considered the “wild nearby” for its incredible scenery and diverse wildlife, is an easy drive from Seattle. It also represents a unique opportunity to “save all the pieces” in what the National Park Service calls the most rugged mountain range in the Lower 48.

One of its missing pieces is the grizzly bear.

Restoring these rare bears to the North Cascades would be a gift of the natural world to future generations and provide a chance to recover a native predator that was present before the turn of the 19th century. It is a rare opportunity, but with a short window of time to make it a reality.

Share your opinion

The National Park Service wants to hear your opinion on a proposal to relocate grizzly bears to North Cascades National Park:

The deadline to comment is March 26.

Even within our wildest national parks, opportunities for “re-wilding” exist, allowing plant and animal species to return, strengthening the health of ecosystems and our National Park System. Such efforts were celebrated last year, following the final removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams in Olympic National Park, where salmon populations instantly rebounded in areas that were blocked for decades.

Now, after years of discussions, the National Park Service, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service have begun a public process on a proposal to recover grizzly bears in the North Cascades ecosystem, including within the North Cascades National Park.

In the Lower 48 states, Idaho’s Bitterroot Mountains, Montana’s Glacier and Yellowstone national parks regions, the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia and Idaho, and the far northeast corner of Washington state are the only places where grizzlies can be found. All of these are in the Rocky Mountains except for the small population in Washington.

The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) strongly supports this first formal step, as it could lead to recovery of an important Pacific Northwest native species that is at risk of disappearing forever.

Top predators like grizzly bears can provide numerous benefits. As the animals only thrive in wild places, their presence means there is clean air, clean water and a healthy natural world for all other creatures, including people, to share. While grizzlies will eat what’s available — they’re omnivores — nearly all of their diet is composed of plants, berries, roots, fish or small animals like ground squirrels. The animals help maintain the health of their habitat by turning over the soil through their digging and dispersing berry seeds through their digestion as they move about. This helps maintain a diversity of plants in the ecosystem.

While a few grizzly bears have been sighted on the Canadian side of the North Cascades ecosystem, none have been confirmed in the United States portion for several years. There are as many as 50 grizzlies in the Selkirk Mountain ecosystem northeast of Spokane, and sightings have occurred in north-central Washington in recent years. Grizzlies prefer remote places without people around, so finding them is, and would be, special, and avoiding them would not be difficult.

More than 100 people attended the recent Seattle public meeting as part of the current public comment period, which is open through March 26. From a group of young girls who identified themselves as “The Bear Club,” to wildlife biologists and other interested citizens, the vast majority of the room echoed support for the recovery process. It is important that Northwest residents and supporters of our national parks and wildlife share their comments, as feedback will help the federal agencies develop the best plan.

The next step will be for the agencies to draft an environmental-impact report, which we hope to see next year. NPCA calls for the agencies to consider opportunities to add grizzly bears that currently live outside of the North Cascades Recovery Area to the ecosystem if the science shows it is needed. Sound science should also determine the number of bears needed for a self-sustaining population.

As we look toward the 2016 centennial of our National Park Service and the next 100 years to come, restoring wildlife populations that support the vitality of our most treasured places, like North Cascades National Park, is a needed role for our National Park Service. Grizzly bears have historically helped make North Cascades National Park a spectacular, diverse piece of wild America — and that’s worth protecting.