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Process underway to return grizzly bears to Washington state’s Cascade Mountains

Grizzly bears may be reintroduced into the wilds of Washington state.

As an initial step in the decision-making process to determine whether grizzly bears should be restored to the North Cascades ecosystem in Washington, the National Park Service announced yesterday (Thursday) that it will begin developing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) this fall.

Developing an EIS is a three-year process that will evaluate a variety of options for the future of the grizzly bear in the area.

“This is the first stage of a multi-step process to help inform decisions about grizzly bear restoration in the North Cascades ecosystem,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.

“The National Park Service and our partners in this effort haven’t made any decisions about the bear’s restoration at this time as federal law requires us to look at a range of options, including not restoring grizzlies to the area,” Jarvis said.

The EIS process is required under the National Environmental Policy Act.

It begins this week with an advertisement in eBuy, requesting quotes from contractors to conduct the EIS.

Whoever is awarded the bid will evaluate a range of alternatives for potential restoration of grizzly bears in the expansive ecosystem in the north-central area of the state.

The statement will be developed in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers the Endangered Species Act.

“The Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan calls on us to fully consider the restoration of the grizzly bear in the North Cascades, and the process ensures we solicit the public for their input before putting any plan into action,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe.

“We will work together with the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, state of Washington and the public as we move through the EIS process,” Ashe said.

Funding for the EIS will be provided by the National Park Service. The other cooperating agencies and partners will provide technical support.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the grizzly bear as a threatened species in the lower 48 United States in 1975. The species was listed as endangered by the state of Washington in 1980.

A grizzly bear recovery plan was written in 1982 and revised in 1993. Its chapter on the North Cascades ecosystem was added in 1997 and includes a call for an EIS.

The North Cascades ecosystem encompasses 9,800 square miles in the U.S. and another 3,800 square miles in British Columbia, Canada. A few grizzly bears have been sighted in the Canadian part of the ecosystem. No grizzly bears have been sighted on the U.S. side for several years.

The U.S. side of the ecosystem includes North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Phil Anderson, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said Thursday’s announcement presents a unique opportunity for his agency to fully participate in a rigorous public process that will consider a wide range of alternatives for grizzly bear restoration in the North Cascades.

“We welcome the opportunity to participate as a cooperating agency with the National Park Service and the other federal agencies interested in the conservation and recovery of grizzly bears in Washington,” said Anderson.

A timeline for public involvement - including public meetings through what is called the scoping process - will be announced later this fall.

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