With Zinke out as Interior Secretary, we need our congressional delegation to insist that the next office holder work with Washington state to finish the job and bring grizzly bears home to the North Cascades.
In his soon-to-be former role as Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke was responsible for overseeing the protection of our public lands and endangered wildlife. Instead, his tenure at the Department of the Interior was marred with scandal and broken promises. Despite his continuous claim of being a “Teddy Roosevelt conservationist,” Zinke oversaw the shrinking of national monuments, approved extreme hunting practices in Alaska and gave huge concessions to industry at the expense of wildlife.
One of the few positive conservation initiatives that the Zinke touted was the restoration of grizzly bears to the North Cascades. In March, Zinke came to Washington state and committed the agency to finalizing a plan to welcome grizzlies home to the Cascades before the end of the summer.
Despite voicing his strong support, Zinke continued to stall, delay and undermine the recovery process. Work on the plan came to a standstill after he issued a “stop work” order in August. This isn’t the first time the secretary has put work on hold. The entire process has advanced by fits and starts ever since he took office. These needless delays have wasted time and money that could have been spent on bringing these American icons home to the Cascade Mountains.
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After telling the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to halt all work, Zinke laid out no plan for restarting work on the grizzly-recovery plan. This disregards the extensive outreach and public involvement throughout this entire process. The agencies held almost 100 meetings with members of the public and interested stakeholders to answer questions and listen to concerns. More than 126,000 public comments were submitted to the agency during the 15-week-long public-comment period and 45-day extension requested by local governments. With 80 percent of Washington voters in favor of grizzly recovery, there is strong public support for the Interior Department to complete this process.
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Grizzly bears are a symbol of the wild American West, and are culturally and spiritually important to Native American and First Nation Tribes throughout North America. For thousands of years, grizzlies roamed the rugged Cascade mountains, but decades of unregulated hunting pushed grizzlies to the brink of extinction. While these bruins are recovering in other parts of the country, the population in the North Cascades is isolated. There are only a few remaining grizzles in this region, and their slow reproductive rate means that growth of this population is nearly impossible without help. Scientists have stated that bringing more grizzlies to Washington is the only way to save this imperiled population.
Restoring grizzly bears would also bring balance back to the irreplaceable North Cascades ecosystem. Grizzlies spread seeds, help distribute nutrients, and improve soils when they dig for roots and tubers. Grizzlies require large and healthy habitat, features that are invaluable for countless other species as well. Recovering grizzlies will also protect other native wildlife and habitats throughout the region.
Despite the extensive public outreach, strong public support and clear science showing grizzly recovery is the right thing to do, the Interior Department has not moved to implement the recovery process. The fate of our public lands and wildlife cannot be placed on hold because of the fallout of a failed secretary. People have raised their voices in support of the bruins. As the Senate questions new Interior Secretary appointees, our senators should insist that that next secretary finish the job and bring grizzly bears home to the North Cascades.