February 22, 2023 | By:

Wilderness and Grizzly Bears for the North Cascades

grizzly bear

The Rewilding Institute’s stand on Grizzly Bear reintroduction for the North Cascades

The Rewilding Institute supports the active reintroduction of Grizzly Bears to the North Cascades Ecosystem (NCE). We favor minimizing disturbance to and intervention in the Wilderness and conserving and restoring its whole native biota.

We support the recovery of large carnivores and other strongly interactive species, including Grizzly Bears, wherever possible in their native ranges. We also recognize that, in some places, natural recolonization–the ideal–is unlikely, and active reintroduction is needed to restore full biotic communities. We urge conservationists to work together toward a Grizzly Bear recovery plan in the North Cascades that respects the welfare of individual bears, ecosystem health, and Wilderness values.

Washington’s portion of the North Cascades Ecosystem (shared with British Columbia) is among the most ecologically intact regions in the continental United States, still providing safe homes for nearly all of the post-Pleistocene species native to this sublime landscape. The one glaring absence is the Grizzly Bear. Wolves and Wolverines, amazingly, have recolonized the North Cascades after being extirpated by people, and Fishers were recently reintroduced to the NCE. But habitat connections to the closest healthy Grizzly Bear populations, further north in British Columbia, have been broken by human development, precluding Grizzlies from being able to repopulate the NCE. To fully restore the ecological integrity of the North Cascades, we need to give Grizzly Bears a helping hand and actively bring them back.

Active restoration is needed for ecological, as well as ethical, reasons. Grizzly Bears (Ursus arctos) are a strongly interactive species, whose digging for tubers, grubs, and rodents help maintain mountain meadows and regulate ground squirrel numbers.

Wildlife officials and advocates should undertake active Grizzly Bear reintroduction with utmost compassion for the individual animals involved, and great respect for the laws of the land in the United States—and also in Canada, if bears are to be sourced there. In particular, we must uphold the spirit and letter of the U.S. Wilderness Act, the strongest land protection legislation ever enacted. The Wilderness Act dictates that areas designated as Wilderness by the U.S. Congress shall be kept untrammeled and free of mechanical conveyance.

The view of The Rewilding Institute is that the Wilderness Act should not be so dogmatically interpreted as to proscribe vital restoration measures, but should be holistically interpreted to weigh heavily in favor of minimalist tools and intervention. In the case of the North Cascades and its once and future Grizzly Bear population, this means the National Park Service, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and other partners in Grizzly recovery should take these important steps:

  • Keep stress and discomfort of individual bears to the absolute minimum necessary to achieve gains for the natural community.
  • Minimize the use of motorized vehicles in wild areas; machines should be used only as much as is necessary to achieve recovery goals.
  • When motorized vehicles are deemed essential to recovery, limit their use as much as feasible to wildlands outside of designated Wilderness.
  • Carefully document the entire Grizzly Bear reintroduction process so that lessons can be shared with other areas in need of Grizzly Bear reintroduction (including Oregon, California, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico).
  • Create, restore, and protect habitat connections within and beyond the NCE – including to the Selkirk, Cabinet/Yaak, Bitterroot, and Yellowstone Ecosystems – so that the movement of bears and other wide-ranging species can naturally occur, and the reintroduced Grizzly Bear population is not geographically isolated.

The Rewilding Institute urges all conservation groups who are weighing in on Grizzly Bear recovery in the North Cascades to talk directly with each other and try to find common ground that restores Grizzlies while also upholding Wilderness values. We offer our board, staff, and leadership council in the effort to make the North Cascades Ecosystem as big, wild, whole, and connected as possible.

Dave Parsons, TRI Carnivore Conservation Biologist
Kate McFarland, TRI Deputy Director
John Davis, TRI Executive Director
John Miles, environmental historian and former board member of North Cascades Institute

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1 year ago

Thank you!

Jeff Hoffman
1 year ago

Reading essays like this warms my heart and makes me dream of better days in the future!

1 year ago

“The view of The Rewilding Institute is that the Wilderness Act should not be so dogmatically interpreted as to proscribe vital restoration measures, but should be holistically interpreted to weigh heavily in favor of minimalist tools and intervention”

This is balancing on a pinhead. I hope it doesn’t come back to haunt TRI.

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