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Sunday, February 23, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Poll: Majority favors restoring grizzly bears in North Cascades

This grizzly bear was photographed by backpacker Joe Sebille in North Cascades National park in October, 2010. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service experts later confirmed it as a grizzly -- the first to be photographed in a half a century in the U.S. portion of the range. (Associated Press)
This grizzly bear was photographed by backpacker Joe Sebille in North Cascades National park in October, 2010. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service experts later confirmed it as a grizzly -- the first to be photographed in a half a century in the U.S. portion of the range. (Associated Press)

CARNIVORES -- A poll commissioned by environmental groups last month found a majority of Washington voters supports restoring grizzly bears in the North Cascades.

The poll, conducted in May 2016 for Defenders of Wildlife, found 80 percent of registered voters in Washington support efforts to help recovery of the declining population of grizzly bears in the North Cascades, the groups say today in a media release.

The poll generally supports last year's compiled public comments that showed support for grizzly restoration. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service held public hearings for and multi-year environmental impact statement process starting in the winter of 2015 on the proposed Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan . Public opinion was divided at the public hearings.

Current support comes from a broad spectrum, according to the new poll conducted by Tulchin Research with 89 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of Republicans and 74 percent of independent voters backing the efforts.

The polling results from last month found Washington voters hold the grizzly bear in high esteem, with:

  • 91 percent agreeing with the statement that grizzly bears are a vital part of America’s wilderness and natural heritage.
  • 81 percent agreeing the “the State of Washington should make every effort to help grizzly bears recover and prevent their disappearance.”
  • 85 percent agreeing that “efforts to help the North Cascades grizzly bear population to recover should be science-based and led by expert biologists.”

The poll coincides with Washington State’s official Bear Awareness Week, June 4-12 and an announcement of a newly formed coalition called the Friends of the North Cascades Grizzly Bear.

This coalition of scientists, conservation organizations, local businesses, tribal nations and a growing roster of rural and urban residents is working to advance support for restoring a population of grizzly bears to their native range in the North Cascades.

“Public planning to restore a healthy grizzly bear population to the high-quality habitat of the North Cascades Ecosystem marks the potential turning point in the decades-long decline of the last grizzly bears remaining on the U.S. West Coast,” said Chase Gunnell, Deputy Communications Director for Conservation Northwest, a Washington organization working for grizzly recovery.

Background provided by the environmental groups:

 

Grizzly bears have lived in Washington’s North Cascades for approximately twenty thousand years. In 2016, wildlife experts estimate that fewer than ten remain, making it the most at-risk bear population in North America. In 2015, the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), in coordination with other federal and state agencies, began a multi-year public Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process to plan for the restoration of a healthy and functioning grizzly bear population in the North Cascades. Designated a national Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone in 1997, the area encompasses approximately 9,800 square miles from the U.S.-Canada border south to Interstate 90 and is anchored by North Cascades National Park. It’s one of the largest contiguous blocks of wild public land remaining in the lower 48 states.

The National Park Service, USFWS and other agencies are expected to release draft EIS alternatives for restoring a healthy grizzly bear population to the North Cascades in the fall of 2016. Public comments on those alternatives will be open at that time.

In June 2015, the federal agencies released a summary report of the approximately 3,000 public comments submitted during the EIS scoping period held in early 2015. Of those who submitted comments in support of or opposition to grizzly bear restoration during that period, comments from grizzly bear restoration supporters outnumbered those from opponents by over five to one.

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Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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