Locals had mixed views on the reintroduction plan, while environmentalists say it is crucial for stabilizing grizzly populations in the United States.
WASHINGTON (CN) — The Trump administration is walking back a plan to introduce grizzly bears back into Washington state’s North Cascades, striking a blow to environmental groups who say the plan was critical for the recovery of the species.
The plan to reintroduce the bears into the North Cascades region had been underway since 2015, but Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said Tuesday the plan did not consider the views of locals who have expressed opposition to bringing the bear into the area.
“The Trump administration is committed to being a good neighbor and the people who live and work in north central Washington have made their voices clear that they do not want grizzly bears reintroduced into the North Cascades,” Bernhardt said at a roundtable in Omak, Wash., according to a department press release. “Grizzly bears are not in danger of extinction and Interior will continue to build on its conservation successes managing healthy grizzly bear populations across their existing range.”
The North Cascades run along the Canadian border with the northern part of Washington state, a vast stretch of wild land boasting rocky peaks that rise as high as 10,000 feet. Estimates put the population of grizzly bears in the North Cascades at just 10 and the region represents prime habitat for the bear, according to the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife.
The department said it began reviewing the decision in 2017 with a series of public meetings and briefings “during which overwhelming opposition was received for the plan.” Separately, it said grizzly bear populations have recovered thanks to other reintroduction efforts in the United States, specifically in Idaho, Montana, Washington and Wyoming.
Views on the reintroduction plan were indeed mixed, with opponents including the Sauk-Suittle Indian Tribe, whose leadership expressed concerns about safety and potential damage to local salmon runs.
But environmental groups on Tuesday called the decision to scrap the plans misguided and harmful to efforts to revitalize the species.
Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the reintroduction plan in the North Cascades was an important step towards stabilizing grizzly populations across the United States.
“Grizzly bears only occupy less than 5% of their historic range, and the North Cascades presents prime habitat for grizzly bears,” Zaccardi said in a statement. “Their recovery there is critical to the overall recovery of grizzly bears in the U.S.”
The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit last June claiming the government violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to update a federal plan to aid in the recovery of grizzly populations.