Agencies plan to take more time on grizzly decision

Grizzly bear.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Officials with three federal agencies plan to take more time to decide how to deal with grizzly bear restoration in the North Cascades.

The U.S. Department of Interior, National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say they plan to seek further comments to inform their planning and decision-making process concerning the North Cascades ecosystem grizzly bear restoration plan and environmental impact statement.

The plan has come under fire, with funding in limbo.

U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-4th District, said he’s pleased the agencies plan to take additional time and seek more comments. He has raised concerns about grizzly restoration.

“The National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are continuing analysis” related to the grizzly plan and EIS, said the agencies. “In response to requests from stakeholders, including specific inquiries from Congressman Dan Newhouse, the two bureaus are taking appropriate additional time to consider and evaluate further stakeholder input to inform the planning and decision-making process.

“Public input, reliance on the best available science, and coordination with affected communities, agencies and organizations will be critical before any decision is made.”

Bellingham-based Conservation Northwest, an advocate of grizzly bear restoration, fired back at the announcement.

“While our local staff, members and grizzly bear supporters will certainly be participating in any further public input opportunities, grizzly recovery in the North Cascades has languished for 30 years, and now is not the time for further delay,” said Joe Scott, international programs director and grizzly bear specialist for Conservation Northwest.

Since 2014, the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have led a process planning for grizzly bear restoration. Hearings have been held and the agencies received more than 126,000 public comments.

“Rep. Newhouse has unfairly criticized this public process, even seeking to defund it with a budget rider that disregards scientific research, hamstrings wildlife professionals and ignores public opinion,” Scott charged.

Meanwhile, Conservation Northwest pointed to a peer-reviewed report released recently by scientists from the National Park Service that concludes the North Cascades and surrounding areas were historically inhabited by grizzly bears.

“A synthesis of historical and recent reports of grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) in the North Cascades” is expected to be submitted soon for publication in a scientific journal, said Conservation Northwest.

The report documents 178 credible and geo-referenced observations of grizzly bears or their signs within the North Cascades grizzly bear recovery zone that were made between 1859 and 2015, said the environmental group.

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