Grizzlies for the North Cascades? National Park Service wants to know

A first step on road to grizzly recovery in a former stronghold-

The National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) have just announced that they are jointly preparing a North Cascades Ecosystem Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (Plan/EIS). Public meetings are being held this coming March about the plan to restore grizzly bears to the rugged and vast North Cascade mountains of Washington State. Like Central Idaho, the North Cascades have been an official grizzly recovery area for many years now. Despite this status, both it and the Central Idaho (Bitterroot) grizzly recovery zone harbor from only a few, to no actual grizzly bears.

Meetings begin at the Red Barn in Winthrop, WA on March 3 at 5 p.m.  More will follow (see full schedule at bottom) in Okanogan, Wenatchee, Cle Elum, Seattle and Bellingham.  The views of the public will also be recorded on-line, comments accepted at through March 26, 2015.

The North Cascades ecosystem grizzly recovery zone is huge — 9,565 square miles (6-million+ acres) in the United States, plus 3,800 square miles to the north in British Columbia.  Public lands are 85% of it, 5% are Washington state lands. Ten per cent are private lands.

In the North Cascades. Glacier Peak Wilderness
In the North Cascades. Glacier Peak Wilderness

In the past there were many grizzly bears. During the days of the Hudson Bay Company (early to mid 1850s), 3788 grizzly bear hides were shipped out of the ecosystem area. The grizzly population was largely eliminated by activities like this in the 19th century, but sporadic grizzly sightings and killings have persisted throughout the 20th century until 2010. In recent years, there have been more observations in the Canadian part of the North Cascades than the American. The most recent was in October 2010. A hiker in North Cascades National Park took a beautiful photo of a grizzly in silhouette.

The North Cascades is one of the largest aggregations of generally wild, well-protected, scenic lands in America. There is North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area and nine wilderness areas. Almost half the area is not accessible by road, and so offering maximum protection to grizzlies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has concluded that in the American part of the North Cascades there is habitat to support from 200 to 400 grizzly bears.

Here is detailed information on the meetings.

5 to 7:30 p.m., March 3, Red Barn upper meeting room, Winthrop.
5 to 7:30 p.m., March 4, Okanogan PUD meeting room, Okanogan.
6 to 8:30 p.m., March 5, Chelan County PUD Auditorium, Wenatchee.
5 to 7:30 p.m., March 9, Putnam Centennial Center meeting room, Cle Elum.
5 to 7:30 p.m., March 10, Seattle Pacific University Bertona Classroom 1, Seattle.
5 to 7:30 p.m., March 11, Bellingham Central Library lecture room, Bellingham.








  1. WyoWolfFan Avatar

    I wonder how much of an uphill battle this will be.

  2. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Oh, I hope this is approved! It will be wonderful to have them back again.

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    Ida Lupine,

    It will likely be a long struggle, mostly because the usual suspects see it as another affront to their local “customs and culture.”

    Some urban folks too, who hike, will, with encouragement, become fearful of meeting a grizzly in the woods.

  4. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    I’d be terrified to encounter one, when hiking in Yellowstone I’ve avoided places where they were seen, learned how to identify one, and take seriously the ranger warnings. That said, they and other wildlife do deserve to be brought back to their rightful places in wilderness, in places where there wouldn’t be much contact with humans. – Ida Urine 🙂

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      oops, that should be Ida Ursine. I should add that I am as equally terrified of a bear having to be destroyed because of a bad encounter with people, esp. if it could have been avoided.

  5. Gary Humbard Avatar
    Gary Humbard

    I think transplanting grizzlies into the North Cascades would be a huge accomplishment for the FWS. There are vast areas where the bears can roam with minimal threats from humans and for those who are afraid of encountering the great bear, STAY HOME, you don’t belong out in the wild!

    I would think grizzlies from Yellowstone and Glacier NP would be good candidates for transplanting. The distance from the North Cascades to Glacier and Yellowstone is far enough to prevent their return to their former haunts (although a few might find their way home).

    I hope some of you will write to the FWS and support the return of the great bear to more of its rightful place. Where the grizzly can walk, the Earth is healthy and whole.

  6. WM Avatar

    At first glance the N. Cascades ecosystem seems massive, and it is. But, when you start whittling away at uninhabitable areas for grizzlies- the glaciers, high elevation rocky areas with minimal vegetation/steep slopes and of course, the 24 mile long and a mile wide Ross Lake, and Diablo Reservoir, the inhabitable area gets considerably smaller. To my recollection this is mostly not good country for ungulates, no elk that I am aware of, and not many deer. It is wet here too, on the west side. That means an expanding grizzly population along with existing black bears will eat mostly vegetation, berries and insects. To some extent that means valley bottoms and some of the more gradual sidehills, with good sun exposure. Well, guess where people will be, as they travel through on a limited number of trails?

    But, the people are few – N. Cascades is not used that much. If there is a place other than the GYE where grizzly bear populations could be encouraged in somewhat favorable habit it would be here. More likely the North Unit, then the South Unit which is on the other side of Hiway 20 and runs all the way down to the north tip of Lake Chelan. And, that area has quite a few people most of the snow free months of the year, who come to hike this wonderful scenic area. I doubt grizzlies will be that welcome there.

    Surely whatever EIS is produced will address all this in detail.

    Hard to say for sure how much resistance will be on such a proposal. Probably much more objection on the east side of the Cascades, and a likely area where expansion of range would occur and where more ungulates would be affected if these bears decide they like meat better than berries and bugs. Sort of the same thing as with wolves – the folks where they are will be the most affected and thus the most likely to object.

    1. WM Avatar

      I should have clarified first two paragraphs is related to the North Cascades National Park. The N Cascade Ecosystem, and the scoping letter for this plan includes much national forest outside the Park, and east as far as the Columbia River (Wenatchee) and south as far as I-90.

      There won’t be much support outside the N.Cascade NP, and in fact outright opposition on national forest lands and private lands on the East side (where the deer, elk, cattle and sheep are, and these lands are heavily used by humans for recreation of all types. If grizzlies recover to the point they start occupying these areas, they will be relocated or thumped with regularity – guaranteed.

  7. bret Avatar

    More bears have been confirmed in the wedge an NE portion of the state then the North Cascades. State law prohibits importing or translocation of grizzly bears.

    My feeling is the state would like to have wolves some what settled before working on grizzy bears?

    1. Ed Loosli Avatar
      Ed Loosli

      In all I have read about Washington State’s grizzly bears, I have never read that, “State law prohibits importing or translocation of grizzly bears.” Where can I locate this Washington State law or any mention of it??

  8. Joanne Favazza Avatar
    Joanne Favazza

    They’ll restore them, then kill them.

  9. Kayla Avatar

    This is Great!!! Hope they start bringing back the Grizzlies in the North Cascades as soon as possible!!! I have hiked in the North Cascades and it is such a fabulous area! There is sooooo much room for Grizzlies here to live in peace. I just hope they can convince all the people down in the cities and urban areas nearby in Puget Sound to go along with this. There are many clueless people there who are like so many people in this modern day age that are afraid of everything as pertaining to the Grizzly it seems.

    Now as for myself, I trust the Grizzly more then most people for a Grizzly has Never stabbed me in the back like many people have. At least the Grizzlies have Common Sense it seems. Gooooo Grizzlies!!!!

  10. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    It seems an absolute sin though, not to have them in the wild, where they should rightfully be. How are people and children going to learn about wildlife and wild areas, and see these wonderful animals and places without reserving some space for them throughout our country? It just continues the cycle of disconnect from nature. No, a zoo, in captivity, is not the answer. There’s an entire suite of animals and plants associated with the top predators that are just as thrilling to see, maybe not as dramatic, but worth seeing and saving all the same. (I think it’s all dramatic to see).

    There should be more places than extremely remote areas in Alaska and the South Pacific only that are just to precious not to save. There’s a lot to be learned in our own backyards.

    So, I would have to vote in favor of the bears.

  11. Ed Loosli Avatar
    Ed Loosli

    Ralph Maughan:
    This is quite confusing (to me at least)… If what Bret and WM say is true, that no grizzlies can be relocated into Washington State from other states, what is the purpose of these upcoming well publicized Washington State grizzly bear public meetings??
    Is it possible that the Feds can over-rule the State of Washington regarding augmenting the State’s grizzly bear population by relocating them into Washinton from other States??
    I thank you for any clarification.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Ed Loosli,

      Grizzly restoration would most likely be very slow. Their reproductive rate is much slower than wolves. There is also not a large reservoir of source bears. Five or six bears ought not disturb folks with “bad” bear behavior, although I have heard Okanogan county folks are hot heads — a bit like rural Idaho.

      We see that hostility to wolves in rural Washington is cultural, based not on real wolf behavior.

      Legally speaking, the federal government can overrule any state law or rule on wildlife.

      1. Ed Loosli Avatar
        Ed Loosli

        Ralph Maughan:
        O.K., so I repeat my question: Since grizzly bears have been on the Endangered Species list (as a threatened species) for decades and since the North Cascades have been a grizzly “recovery zone” for over a decade with plans calling for natural in-migration and internal growth, if trans-locations of grizzlies from outside the State of Washington is not going to be considered, what is the purpose of these upcoming statewide hearings in Washington State?? Is the goal of these meetings just to re-authorize the plan that is already in place?? Very Strange.

        1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
          Ralph Maughan


          I definitely think the grizzly bears would come from outside the state because the only bears in the state are a tiny (in Washington)population shared by Idaho and B.C. It lives in the small Salmo-Priest wilderness area on the WA-ID-BC border.

        2. rork Avatar

          It is possible, even desirable, to plan even if you have no animals yet and aren’t going to transport any. In MI I could use cougar plans, and plans for wolves in lower peninsula. Asian carp plans might be nice. Even if the plans are useless, the planning process can be important (paraphrasing Eisenhower). I’m not saying they won’t want to try for griz imports.

  12. BC Avatar


    I live in Washington. Yes, the bears should be in the Cascades, no doubt. Should we transplant them there? I’m not so sure. The should be able to migrate there freely, with a small population already. The best habitat for them is in the Paysaten, east of the park. The park itself is so wet and lush – I don’t hike there myself. IMO there’s not much good grizzly habitat in the park.

    Where I’d like to see grizzlies again is southwest Colorado. There are no grizz left in the southern Rockies or Southwest. It would be my dream for grizzlies to return to the Gila or San Juans. The San Juans would definitely work, as the habitat there is superior to even Yellowstone. The one problem is human encroachment, but we all know that game.


    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan


      Migration is not going to happen. They have been protected since the 1970s in the North Cascades, and there is never anything more than an occasional photo or set of tracks, and no multiple bears or cub sign.

      1. rork Avatar

        Forever is a long time, especially the part near the end.
        Wolves have been protected in MI’s northern lower since 1964 – shall I conclude it’s not going to happen?
        I admit my knowledge of the chances of immigration, or any recent expansions bring griz closer from various directions is imperfect.

        1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
          Ralph Maughan


          Establishment of new grizzly populations by migration has not been observed anywhere in the U.S. Expansion of the boundaries of an existing population is observed in both the Greater Yellowstone and the Northern Continental Divide recovery areas.

          Grizzlies are less like to disperse a considerable distance in a linear fashion than wolves (such as OR-7).

          1. rork Avatar

            I’m being optimistic, but you are right, and I get that chances are lower. Thanks.

  13. WM Avatar

    If one carefully reads the scoping letter for the meetings by which a recovery plan and EIS will be developed, this is clearly an opening to look at an alternative which includes transplanting or relocating grizzlies into WA, either within North Cascades National Park or designated Wilderness areas within the national forests.

    Wonder if WA will react to this the way the NRM states reacted to transplanting wolves to ID and within Yellowstone? The planning and implementation processes would likely be very similar, and yes the federal government could do it over WA’s objection, but would it?

    WA law is pretty clear direction for WDFW Commission and Staff as it participates in the planning process. It also seems to be clear direction for the WA Congressional delegation, who could be called upon to make some phone calls to Interior -FWS and NPS – in the future, if there is a preference for a “transplant grizzlies into WA,” alterative.

  14. Gary Humbard Avatar
    Gary Humbard

    For grizzlies to return to sufficient numbers and reproduce with a healthy gene pool in the North Cascades will take transplanting efforts. The FWS concluded the recovery zone is large enough to support a minimum of 200 bears and although it is not prime habitat like Yellowstone and Glacier, the return of grizzlies would be a huge success for the State of Washington.

    From 1980-2011, over 90 million people visited Yellowstone National Park with 43 people being injured by bears in the park. For all park visitors combined, the chances of being injured by a bear are approximately 1 in 2.1 million. During the 140-year history of Yellowstone National Park, seven people have been killed by bears in the park. More people in the park have died from drowning, burns (after falling into thermal pools), and suicide than have been killed by bears. Clearly, ignorance is no excuse for preventing the return of grizzlies to some of their historic habitat.

    Sure, there will be opposition (likely ranchers and some local residents), however I think there will be strong support from conservation organizations and individuals who want “all of the pieces” in the North Cascades along with science to overrule the opponents.

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      I hope that perception can be overcome – it’s a strong one, as we can see with human ideas about wolves.

  15. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    Gary Humbard,

    You are right. A bear population that persists is just not possible from a foundation of one male and one female.

    Inbreeding of grizzlies is a problem in all current populations. I’d like to see the transplants brought from interior Alaska or northern B.C.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan