SEDRO-WOOLLEY, Wash.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit today challenging the Trump administration’s recent termination of a program aimed at restoring grizzly bears to the North Cascades in Washington. In the past decade, biologists have documented only four grizzly bears in the region.
Today’s complaint follows an announcement last summer that the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ended a program aimed at restoring bears to the North Cascades. The program would have involved transporting grizzly bears into the North Cascades from other areas with more robust grizzly populations. Scientists agree that grizzly bear recovery in the North Cascades requires augmentation of its tiny population.
“The Trump administration’s purely political decision to axe this conservation program was a massive blow to the grizzly bear recovery program,” said Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re hopeful that our lawsuit will put grizzly bears in the North Cascades back on the road to recovery.”
According to the complaint, the Trump administration’s termination of the grizzly bear program violates the Endangered Species Act, which requires conservation of listed wildlife, as well as other federal laws. The lawsuit asks that the court order the federal agencies to proceed with the abandoned restoration planning in the North Cascades.
The North Cascades is one of the largest wild areas in the lower 48 states, encompassing more than 95,000 square miles in north-central Washington. It includes North Cascades National Park and large areas of surrounding national forest. According to scientists, the area contains prime habitat that could support approximately 280 grizzly bears.
“Grizzly bears once thrived in the North Cascades and they could again, but only if the feds do their job,” said Zaccardi. “Abandonment of efforts to restore bears to this area would ensure the local extinction of grizzlies in Washington. We’re not going to let that happen.”
Grizzly bears historically ranged from Alaska to Mexico, with an estimated 50,000 bears occupying the western half of the contiguous United States. With European settlement of the American West, they were shot, poisoned and trapped to near extinction. Grizzly bears in the contiguous United States were listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1975.
Today fewer than 2,000 grizzlies are found in five isolated populations in the northern Rocky Mountains and North Cascades. The North Cascades represents one of six primary recovery areas identified by the Fish and Wildlife Service, but grizzly bears are nearly extirpated from that area.
The Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service have 60 days to respond to today’s lawsuit.