Republicans are raising their concerns.
A group of Republican lawmakers, led by Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Dan Newhouse from Washington, is urging the Biden administration to extend the public comment period for a proposal involving the release of grizzly bear populations into a federally managed forest area in northern Washington. In a letter addressed to Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Director Martha Williams and National Park Service (NPS) Director Charles Sams, the six GOP lawmakers have requested an extension of the public comment period from the current duration to 180 days. Additionally, they have asked for more in-person meetings with members of the community who would be affected by the proposal.
According to Fox, Newhouse expressed concern about the introduction of grizzlies into the North Cascades, stating that northern Washington residents have repeatedly expressed their worries about the safety of their communities. Despite local opposition, the Biden administration has been pushing forward with the introduction of these apex predators. Therefore, Newhouse and his colleagues are demanding an extended public comment period to provide adequate time for affected Washingtonians to review and respond to the proposal.
Recently, the FWS and NPS jointly unveiled a proposal to reintroduce grizzly bears to North Cascades National Park in Washington, near the U.S.-Canada border. This proposal offers three options, including two that involve actively restoring populations of the threatened grizzly bear species, and one “no action” alternative that would maintain current management practices. The federal government’s plan is to release up to seven grizzly bears annually into the North Cascades ecosystem over the next five to ten years, with the aim of establishing a population of approximately 200 bears over the coming decades.
Historically, grizzly bears were an integral part of the North Cascades ecosystem for thousands of years, but due to aggressive hunting practices in the 20th century, they were nearly driven to extinction. The last confirmed sighting of a grizzly bear in the North Cascades ecosystem was in 1996.
The GOP lawmakers assert that the federal government is bypassing state law once again in its attempt to proceed with the grizzly bear introduction. The plans to reintroduce grizzly bears to the North Cascades date back to the Obama administration, but after strong state opposition led by Newhouse, the Trump administration decided against restoring grizzly bears to the ecosystem. Former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt argued in July 2020 that grizzly bears were not facing extinction and could be managed within their existing range.
However, following extensive litigation by environmental groups, the Biden administration announced last year that it would reevaluate the possibility of restoration, leading to the proposal presented recently. Chelan County commissioners in Washington, located near North Cascades, had previously voiced their opposition to grizzly bear reintroduction, citing concerns about public safety, economic development, recreation opportunities, and the well-being of rural communities. They criticized the federal agencies for not adequately addressing these concerns or engaging with neighboring counties in the proposed restoration area.
In addition to Dan Newhouse, other Republican Representatives, including Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, Russ Fulcher of Idaho, Cliff Bentz of Oregon, Harriet Hageman of Wyoming, and Matt Rosendale of Montana, have joined in signing the letter. As of now, there has been no response from the NPS and FWS to requests for comment on this matter.