The National Park Service is looking at reintroducing grizzly bears to the North Cascades Mountains in Washington.
The park service has launched a three-year process to consider that question.
In a news release Thursday, the park service said it would begin developing an environmental-impact statement evaluating a “variety of options for the future of the grizzly bear in the area.”
Director Jonathan B. Jarvis stressed that no decision has been made to reintroduce the bears, but the process is required under federal law.
The agency said it would work with the U.S. Forest Service, the state and the public in making any decisions.
Federal authorities listed the grizzly bear as threatened in the lower 48 states in 1975. The park service says grizzlies have been seen in the Cascades north of the Canadian border, but not on the Washington side for several years.
Environmental groups applauded the study, noting that the grizzly population in the North Cascades is estimated at 20 or fewer animals.
“This week’s announcement renews hope that this wilderness icon will roam the North Cascades for generations to come,”Joe Scott, of Conservation Northwest, said in a news release.
The North Cascades ecosystem has the habitat to support a significant grizzly population, environmentalists said.
The North Cascades grizzly bear recovery area is one of the largest blocks of wild federal land remaining in the lower 48 states, with nearly 10,000 miles stretching from Interstate 90 to the Canadian border and encompassing North Cascades National Park and parts of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie and Wenatchee-Okanogan national forests, according to Conservation Northwest.
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