The National Park Service in conjunction with the US Fish and Wildlife Service has prepared a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) on a plan to translocate grizzlies into the rugged North Cascades in Washington. The Forest Service is a cooperating agency, though it appears that agency’s input in the DEIS is minimal. Wilderness Watch is urging the Park Service to consider natural recovery options for the grizzly population.
Wilderness Watch supports restoring healthy grizzly bear populations in the North Cascades in a way that protects and enhances the area’s wilderness character and that also minimizes the human handling and harassment of the bears. The North Cascades are historic grizzly bear habitat and there are likely a few currently living on the U.S. side of border. However, information is lacking on the status of grizzlies on the Canadian side of the border where two moderately sized provincial parks provide some protection for the bears. This area is crucial in any success, as bears wander to and from British Columbia in the North Cascades ecosystem.
The recovery area includes North Cascades National Park and several Wildernesses—the Pasayten, Mt. Baker, Stephen Mather—thus recovery efforts must meet the requirements of the Wilderness Act. This means seeking ways to restore the area’s grizzly population while avoiding the use of motor vehicles and equipment, or trammeling or manipulating the landscape or its wildlife.
The best way to meet these goals would be to allow for and promote natural recovery of grizzlies. A natural recovery alternative would require working with British Columbia to protect grizzlies over a larger land base, and would provide for connectivity via protected habitat corridors. It would also include other measures to ensure that grizzlies are not killed by humans, regardless of what side of the border they are on and regardless of whether they are in national parks, Wilderness, or other public or private lands.
For dubious reasons, a natural recovery alternative was rejected for further analysis. Instead, the DEIS considers only heavy-handed management alternatives.
The action alternatives would involve about 50 to 400 helicopter landings and twice that many flights, though the DEIS is somewhat inconsistent on the exact numbers. All, or almost all, landings would apparently be in Wilderness, either in North Cascades National Park or in surrounding national forests. The extensive use of helicopters would continue indefinitely for monitoring bear movement and numbers. This heavy-handed management would be detrimental to Wilderness and bears alike. Bears would be collared, drugged, samples taken, released in Wilderness, re-collared and re-sampled, if determined necessary, for many years. Any young born in the Wildernesses may also be subjected to this invasive kind of management.
There are no alternatives that look at less invasive or non-invasive means of grizzly reintroduction or recovery, and no natural recovery alternative. None of the current action alternatives, involving translocating bears, are compatible with Wilderness.
We made the following points in our comments:
Photo: Stephen Mather Wilderness by Miguel Vieira via flickr