COLUMN: Local Communities Deserve to be Heard on Grizzly Bear Proposal

September 30, 2019
Weekly Column and Op-Ed

In light of the proposal that just never seems to go away: introducing grizzly bears in the North Cascades, I invite all constituents of the 4th Congressional District to join me in expressing your opinion about how this will affect you and your family.

Grizzly bears in the wild are not the cuddly creatures we see portrayed in movies or television. They are apex predators, weighing up to 850 pounds and standing up to 8 feet tall. To get an idea of the impact these powerful bears have on populated communities, all you have to do is ask the people who live in areas where grizzly bears have been introduced. Just last week, four hunters in Montana were attacked by grizzlies in three separate attacks over a matter of days. This is not something our community wants to see in our region.

I have heard opposition from my constituents across Central Washington, not just those living in the northern region of our district. The North Cascades National Park is a beautiful place, where hundreds of people hike, boat, and camp. The threat of running into a grizzly bear on an afternoon hike or an overnight family camping trip would deter visitors. An attack by a grizzly bear on one of these visitors could not only pose life-threatening consequences, but it could also harm North Central Washington’s thriving recreational economy.

The debate over grizzly bear introduction in Washington state isn’t new. In 1995, Washington lawmakers mandated by law that grizzly bears “shall not be transplanted or introduced into the state.” Since then, the federal government has made multiple attempts to ignore the wishes of our state and illegally introduce the apex predator into the North Cascades Ecosystem.

The initial proposal under the Obama Administration included a public comment period for input. Hundreds of thousands of comments were submitted from all over the country, but the voices that matter most – the voices of the communities directly affected – were ignored. The treatment of local families and concerned citizens at the “public forum” conducted in Okanogan County was unacceptable, leaving many feeling that the federal government did not care about their concerns for their families, neighbors, and businesses.

As the Department of the Interior continued to pursue this proposal, I demanded of both former Interior Secretary Zinke and Interior Secretary Bernhardt, that this time must be different – the voices of these communities must be heard.

A public meeting is the best way for officials at the National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to hear directly from the local communities who would have to live with the consequences of grizzly bears transplanted into the North Cascades. I am grateful Secretary Bernhardt heard my concerns and agreed to host an upcoming meeting on October 7th in Okanogan.

Attendees at this meeting will have the opportunity to speak their mind. Through a lottery system, those in attendance will be chosen to provide up to two minutes of public comment on the record. Those who do not wish to speak at the event can provide their public comment in writing to NPS and USFWS officials. I will be attending to express my grave concerns and wholehearted opposition.

I hope this public meeting will empower Central Washington communities to not let federal bureaucrats dictate their futures. It is imperative that local voices be heard.