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COLUMN: Do You Want More Grizzlies in Northern Washington?

February 3, 2017
Weekly Column and Op-Ed

Grizzly bears are impressive animals. When standing upright, male grizzlies can reach a height of 8 feet and weigh from 250 to 600 pounds. You can always tell a grizzly from a black bear by the distinctive hump of its high shoulders. These truly magnificent predators are at the top of the food chain and are best observed from afar.

For residents of the North Cascades, the prospect of increasing grizzly populations through the National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) recently announced Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan deserves careful consideration and public comment. Reintroducing the bears—to ultimately reach a population of 200—would have a long-term impact on local forestry, ranching, recreation, and rural residents. Those residents must have their voices heard on the draft federal proposal.

I requested last year that the NPS conduct effective public scoping sessions in the area so that local residents could have their say. For local residents who will certainly be most affected by this plan, it is critical for them to speak out. There is currently an ongoing 60-day public comment period that will remain open until March 14, 2017. A copy of the draft language, as well as instructions on how you can submit your comments, can be found at www.parkplanning.nps.gov/grizzlydeis.

Additionally, the NPS and FWS will be hosting open houses across the state to allow the public to submit their comments and answer any questions about the proposal, and there are some in the area.  On February 15, 2017, an open house will be held at the Winthrop Barn, 51 WA-20, Winthrop, from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM. On February 16, 2017, an open house will be held at the Okanogan County Fairgrounds Annex Facility, 175 Rodeo Trail, from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM.

In addition to in-person public meetings, there will be two virtual public meetings, or ‘webinars:’ one on February 14th from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM, and another on February 26th from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM.

It is not difficult to see why urban-dwellers hundreds of miles away from grizzly bear habitat would be enthusiastic and see higher numbers as an exciting development. Grizzly bears are after all impressive wildlife. But ultimately, Central Washington residents are the ones being asked to live with these bears, and their input should carry the most weight when it comes to increasing the number of grizzlies.