More than 100 people turned out Monday during a public meeting in Cle Elum to voice their opinions on reintroducing grizzly bears to the North Cascades. It was the first of eight meetings to be held across Washington.
The federal government is proposing several options to recover grizzlies in the area. The draft plans range from doing nothing to slowly relocating bears to more aggressive relocation efforts. The plans could take up to a century to reach 200 grizzly bears in the North Cascades.
At the meeting, employees from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Parks Service stood alongside informational posters and answered peoples’ questions throughout the evening. Eric Rickerson is the state supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“It’s a great experience to educate the public, even if they haven’t made up their mind,” Rickerson said.
The debate to bring in grizzly bears from Canada or Western Montana has caused tension for decades. Some people worry about their safety hiking or hunting in the wilderness. Others worry about livestock losses.
Devon Thomas hikes and geocaches in the woods near her home in Cle Elum.
“I’m already concerned about the cougar, and the bobcat, and the potential for wolves. So, yeah, add another big one. I have a concern,” Thomas said.
Others also worried about grizzlies’ diet and what that could mean for area wildlife.
But Cle Elum resident Steve Nelson said he’s not worried about more bears on the landscape. He said the plans mostly call for a slow release of grizzlies that he doesn’t think will cause problems for people.
“I don’t see an issue, but time will tell,” Nelson said.
Biologists estimate there are fewer than five grizzlies left in the North Cascades. Excessive hunting and isolation from other bear ranges caused the population to dwindle. Historic records indicate thousands of grizzlies once roamed the area.
Biologists say, without outside help, Washington’s grizzlies in the North Cascades will go extinct.
Attendance more than doubled at this meeting, up from around 40 people in 2014 during similar scoping hearings for this draft environmental impact statement.
Other open houses are scheduled for 6-8 p.m.:
- Cashmere – Feb. 14, Riverside Center, 201 Riverside Drive
- Winthrop – Feb. 15, the Red Barn, 51 state Route 20
- Omak – Feb. 16, Annex Facility at Okanogan County Fairgrounds, 175 Rodeo Trail Road
- Bellingham – Feb. 21, Oxford Suites, 4051 Meridian St.
- Darrington – Feb. 22, Darrington Community Center, 570 Sauk Ave.
- Sultan – Feb. 23, Sultan High School, 13715 310th Ave. SE
- Renton – Feb. 24, Renton Community Center, 1715 Maple Valley Highway
People can submit public comments through March 14. A final environmental impact statement is expected this fall.