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As Many as 70 Grizzly Bears Will Be Released in Washington State Over the Next Decade

April 29, 2024 - Blog

The National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a joint record of decision on Thursday finalizing a grizzly bear reintroduction in the North Cascades of Washington. This move doesn’t come as much of a surprise after a final environmental impact statement advocated for reintroducing grizzlies as a nonessential experimental population under the 10(j) rule of the Endangered Species Act in March.

The bears will be transplanted from the Rocky Mountains and British Columbia, the agencies clarify in the record of decision. The details of the reintroduction mirror the plan outlined in the final EIS. Officials will release three to seven bears a year for five to 10 years, in hopes of establishing a population of 25 bears. That means as few as 15 bears and up to 70 could be released, though the final number will likely fall somewhere in the middle. There is currently no timeline for when these translocations will begin, according to the NPS. The U.S. portion of the North Cascades recovery zone is some 9,800 square miles in size, which the NPS points out is larger than the state of New Jersey. 

The 10(j) designation is a popular tool in predator reintroductions across the West. As these reintroductions put more pressure on nearby livestock growers and rural residents to protect themselves and their livelihoods, the 10(j) rule adds flexibility to how these predators are managed. Rather than giving the reintroduced grizzly bears all the protections of an endangered species, and, in turn, making any harassment or use of lethal force against the bears illegal, both lethal and nonlethal methods of deterrence are on the table for ranchers in times of emergency under the 10. This is also the case with Colorado’s reintroduced wolves, for example. 

“The final 10(j) rule is based on extensive community engagement and conversations about how the return of a grizzly bear population in the North Cascades will be actively managed to address concerns about human safety, property and livestock, and grizzly bear recovery,” USFWS state supervisor Brad Thompson says in an NPS press release. “It provides an expanded set of management tools in recognition that grizzly bear recovery in the North Cascades is dependent on community tolerance of grizzly bears.” 

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Grizzly bears once occupied the North Cascades for millennia before getting wiped out of the area in the late 1990s. The last confirmed grizzly sighting was in 1996, according to the NPS. About 85 percent of the region is federal land, including North Cascades National Park, which is over 504,000 acres in size. The North Cascades region is one of six formal grizzly bear recovery zones. Two other zones, the Northern Continental Divide and the Greater Yellowstone ecosystems, are home to robust grizzly bear populations that are expanding beyond their zone boundaries. Agencies are also currently considering a reintroduction in the Bitterroot ecosystem of Montana and Idaho. The other two recovery zones, the Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak ecosystems, are both home to roughly 40 to 50 bears.

The post As Many as 70 Grizzly Bears Will Be Released in Washington State Over the Next Decade appeared first on Outdoor Life.

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