In an intra-Republican Party policy dispute, Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke supports reintroducing grizzlies in Washington state, but U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse inserted an amendment to block funding.
The federal government would be barred from spending money to move grizzly bears into Washington’s North Cascades in the coming fiscal year, under an amendment approved Thursday by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has backed the effort to bring the bears back to the mountain range, saying in March they are “part of a healthy environment.” That gave new life to an Obama-era recovery study halted by the Trump administration.
But the recovery effort in the North Cascades is opposed by Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican from Sunnyside, who inserted in a House appropriations bill the amendment banning federal money for reintroduction efforts.
In an April letter to Zinke, Newhouse wrote that the reintroduction plan “threatens the way of life” for his North Central Washington constituents. Ranchers are concerned that grizzlies could kill livestock, and Newhouse also wrote that the bears would negatively affect recreation and rural economies.
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Zinke, in March comments in Sedro-Woolley, said reintroducing grizzlies would take public safety and cattlemen’s concerns into account, and he was confident federal wildlife professionals “could get it right.”
Zinke’s statement heartened conservationists who support bringing the grizzlies back to the North Cascades.
In past centuries, the North American grizzly population was estimated at some 50,000 bears. Hunters killed off most of them in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the bears occupy about 2 percent of their original range in about 2 percent of their original range in the Lower 48 states. In the U.S. portion of the North Cascades ecosystem, the most recent confirmed sighting was in 1996.
“It’s apparent that our region’s grizzly bears will not self-recover,” wrote Joe Scott, of Conservation Northwest, in a commentary published in The Seattle Times in April. “ … Conservation Northwest and our colleagues support moving approximately 25 bears over 10 years into the North Cascades ecosystem as a measured approach to reestablish grizzly reproduction — with additional animals added over time to replace those that die prematurely or don’t have cubs.”
The House appropriations bill passed Thursday also includes a provision that would affect gray wolves, whose recovery has been embraced by conservationists as a wildlife success story but whose predation on livestock has spurred anger from ranchers. Under the measure, the Interior Department would be required to remove these wolves from the list of endangered wildlife by the end of the next fiscal year.
The congressional fate of both of the grizzly and gray wolf provisions are uncertain.
The Senate has yet to pass an appropriations funding bill for the Interior Department, so the bear and wolf measures would have to make it into the final legislation Congress sends to President Donald Trump.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said grizzly bears occupy about 2 percent of their original range in North America. The story has been corrected to say they occupy about 2 percent of their original range in the Lower 48 states.