Residents Concerned Over Biden Official Grizzly Policy

In northern Washington, a contentious debate has emerged surrounding the Biden administration’s proposal to reintroduce grizzly bears into a federally-managed forest area near local communities. Over 200 residents from the region participated in a public comment session organized by the Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Parks Service (NPS). About 50 residents expressed strong opposition to the federal grizzly bear proposal, while only six showed support. Among the critics was Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican representative from Washington, who raised concerns about the potential consequences of the plan.

During the public comment session, Representative Newhouse, who also serves as the chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus, voiced his worries about the impact on his farm and the safety of his family and workers. He questioned the agencies’ plan for addressing crop loss and livestock depredation, as well as the timeline for issuing lethal permits to protect citizens and property from potential bear encounters.

The proposal, put forward in late September by the NPS and FWS, outlines a plan to release up to seven grizzly bears annually into the North Cascades National Park in northern Washington, with the aim of establishing a population of approximately 200 grizzly bears over the coming decades.

Local residents opposing the plan argued that the region lacks suitable habitat for grizzly bears and expressed concerns about the bears migrating into nearby communities, particularly during the winter months. They emphasized the potential risks to public safety and the livelihoods of local farmers and ranchers.

The federal plan offers three options, including actively restoring the grizzly bear population, and a “no action” alternative that maintains current management practices. The public has been invited to provide feedback on these proposed actions until mid-November.

Hugh Morrison, the regional director of FWS, contended that grizzly bears are an integral part of the region’s heritage and can coexist peacefully with communities, residents, and other wildlife.

The history of grizzly bears in the North Cascades dates back thousands of years, but their numbers dwindled to near extinction due to aggressive hunting practices in the 20th century. The last confirmed sighting of a grizzly bear in the North Cascades ecosystem was in 1996.

The residents also raised concerns about the potential legal consequences of harming a federally threatened and state-listed endangered species like the grizzly bear, which can result in substantial fines and penalties.

Plans to reintroduce grizzly bears in the North Cascades have been a subject of contention for years, with the Trump administration previously concluding against restoration. However, following litigation from environmental groups, the Biden administration revisited the issue, leading to the proposal in September. The matter continues to be a divisive and complex issue that pits ecological restoration efforts against the concerns and livelihoods of local residents.