Grizzly bears are considered a protected threatened species in the contiguous United States. Federal officials are launching new efforts to restore the grizzly bear population across their natural territory in the Pacific Northwest. The bears haven’t been seen in the North Cascades of Washington since the late 1990s.
They are found throughout a few states like Wyoming, Idaho Montana, and can be found throughout much of Alaska, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Before 19th century, over 50,000 grizzly bears roamed throughout 18 states, spanning from Washington to Minnesota and down to Texas. The population drastically decreased by 1975, where it was dangerously low. The numbers got down to 700-800 bears. However, the population has expanded to at least 1,900, FWS reports.
The population expansion can be mainly attributed to conservation efforts across six “recovery zones.” These zones are deemed large enough and contains enough natural resources to help the grizzly population recover. These zones stretch through Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Canada.
Now, FWS and the National Park Service hopes to resume efforts initially ceased by the Department of Interior in 2020. That year, the department stopped the efforts to bring grizzly bears back to the North Cascades of Washington. The bears haven’t been seen in this area since 1996. : the North Cascades of Washington state.
Except for rare sightings, like when this grizzly was photographed by a hiker in the Cascades in 2011, the bears are seldom seen in this habitat.
Officials contend that reintroducing this species once eradicated from the region is necessary because grizzly bears are an essential part of the ecosystem.
Officials Address Concerns Over Grizzly Bears for Local Farmers
“Grizzly bears in the North Cascades ecosystem are considered a keystone species, playing an important role in biodiversity,” Andrew LaValle, a public affairs officer with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service tells Nexstar. “They are also notorious seed dispersers, spreading seeds both within and across elevations. They aerate the soil, giving new vegetation a chance to flourish.”
Grizzly bears adapt their diets based on what remains available in their environment, the FWS says. They’ve been noted to eat more than 260 varieties of food. This spans from dead or alive mammals or fish to insects and plants. Grizzlies even eat human foods and garbage arbage, along with all types of grasses, berries, and seeds.
Bears feed mostly on vegetation, but they sometimes attack livestock. FWS and NPS addressed the concern among farmers, claiming they believe the attacks on livestock would be minimal. They hope to restore the population in the North Cascades to 200.
“Using a U.S Department of Interior formula based on the number of grizzly bears and number of cattle and sheep in the ecosystem, we could expect approximately three livestock depredations per year (1 cow, 2 sheep) when the population of grizzly bears reaches 200,” the agencies write in this FAQ.
The departments suggest “a variety of non-lethal and preventative deterrent options for reducing and avoiding conflicts,” such as installing electric fences and food storage.