The quiet towns of northern Washington are roaring with discontent over a Biden administration proposal to reintroduce grizzly bears into a federally managed forest area near residential communities. Residents are up in arms about both the value of their property and the overall safety of their families.
The Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Parks Service (NPS) hosted a public commentary session, which saw over 200 local residents in attendance – a big turnout for this rural community. Only six attendees expressed support for the grizzly bear proposal, with approximately 50 individuals voicing their opposition. Rep. Dan Newhouse, (R-WA), who represents the affected communities, was among the speakers. Rep. Newhouse passionately highlighted the potential risks and consequences of the plan.
“I worry not only about the bears destroying my crops, but for the safety and well-being of myself, my family, and my on-farm hands,” Newhouse stated during the session. “Rather than letting common sense prevail, [the agencies] are continuing to push forward with this dangerous plan.”
The controversial plan was first proposed in late September by the NPS and FWS. If implemented, the scheme would reintroduce as many as seven grizzly bears annually into the North Cascades National Park. This park sits in northern Washington along the U.S.-Canada border. While some left-wing environmentalist groups have pushed for the plan, local lawmakers and residents alike have been virulently opposed to the plan.
The proposal offers three options. Two are focused on actively restoring populations of the threatened grizzly bear species. A third, known as the “no action” alternative, would maintain the status quo of current management practices. The public can comment on the proposed actions through mid-November.
Despite the assurances from agencies and activists alike that grizzly bears can coexist peacefully with communities, local residents remain skeptical. Many believe the region lacks the appropriate habitat for these apex predators. While many want to aid with conservation efforts, they are concerned about their movements outside designated areas.
There are serious safety concerns for those living in the area if the grizzlies breach the area designated for their release. There are serious legal repercussions for killing a grizzly bear in Washington, whether intentionally or otherwise. This means that even killing a grizzly in defense of one’s self or children can result in substantial fines and other legal penalties due to the species’ federal threatened and state-listed endangered status.
The opposition to grizzly bear reintroduction has been ongoing, and not just from residents. Commissioners in Chelan County, Washington, expressed their concerns to the NPS in December. The commissioners highlighted the potential negative impacts on public safety, economic development in the region, and recreation opportunities, as the well-being of rural communities.
The plan to reintroduce grizzly bears to the North Cascade region dates back to the Obama Administration. Despite significant opposition from the state and the previous administration’s conclusion that grizzly bears would not be restored in the ecosystem, the Biden administration announced a review process last year. This process eventually led to the contentious proposal released in September.
While the fate of the grizzly bear reintroduction plan remains uncertain, it’s clear that local residents are determined to protect their homes and communities from potential dangers. The controversy surrounding this proposal is far from over, and the concerns of those who cherish their way of life in northern Washington continue to resonate.