Wednesday, May 22, 2024

WA ranchers bearing brunt of grizzlies returning to North Cascades

by By Carleen Johnson/The Center Square
| May 6, 2024 4:52 PM

(The Center Square) — After years of discussion and public meetings, the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have signed a final agreement to bring grizzly bears back to the North Cascades Mountain range.

The plan calls for a “founder population” of 25 bears over the next five to 10 years, releasing the animals in remote parts of the forest.

The decision is not without controversy with federal lawmakers and WA cattle ranchers objecting, arguing their concerns have fallen on deaf ears.

To restore the bears to the North Cascades, the federal agencies will undergo a translocation process that will bring in grizzlies from other ecosystems in the Rocky Mountains or interior British Columbia, according to a spokesman for the National Park Service who spoke Monday with The Center Square.

Jason Ransom is the Wildlife Program Supervisor with the North Cascades National Park Service.

“The last confirmed grizzly bear sighting in this part of the U.S. was 1996 and that was right about the same time the recovery chapter under the Endangered Species Act was developed for the North Cascades, to basically say, ‘How do we recover these bears," said Ransom.

“Grizzly bears were killed by people here directly and there’s still the habitat here, the resources here for them and the ecosystem for them here is huge.”

“We have the chance to put them back,” says Ransom.

But why restore the species to a region that has been grizzly bear-free for decades?

Proponents argue it will make the overall ecosystem healthier.

“Our culture had a war on these species and we know better now, and this is a chance for us to tell a different story,” said Gordon Congdon, a retired orchardist and conservationist who lives in Wenatchee, Washington."

“We think by restoring the grizzly bear, that improves the ecology of the environment, which benefits other animals and benefits the diversity of habitat.”

As to the concerns raised by ranchers and others who recreate in the North Cascades, Ransom says, “In some ways bears we have bears and the things we need to do to live around and work around, it's not very different between black bears and grizzly bears, I mean just avoiding conflict, those tools are the same.”

Rachel McClure with the Okanogan County Cattlemen’s Association doesn’t see it quite the same and says their concerns have not been heard.

She tells The Center Square in the first public hearing several years ago on the matter, “Over 600 people showed up and the vast majority were very vocal in opposition to the plan.”

“It doesn’t matter what we say, they’re just going to do what they want to do anyway,” said McClure. “Many of the locals don’t believe there is habitat up there for them to begin with, meaning they’ll put bears up there and they’ll starve to death.”

She added that other species could use the resources like wolverines and Selkirk caribou. If a grizzly bear gets into a flock of sheep, she said the flock would be decimated.

“They are going to come to where the food is,” says McClure who tells The Center Square she is very seriously concerned it will take a human loss of life for proponents of this effort to realize how misguided this is.

“They don’t care what we have to say and tell us that we’re fearful of an animal. Well duh, yeah it’s a landshark,” she said.