Federal agencies are weighing options for restoring grizzly bears to the North Cascades.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service released Thursday a combined draft environmental impact statement, or EIS, and restoration plan for the North Cascades grizzly bear.
The options include leaving the existing grizzly bears as they are, or working over the next 25 to 100 years to bring the population to 200 bears through the release of those captured elsewhere, likely in Montana or British Columbia.
The document is open for public comment through March 14. Comments are being accepted online and by mail, and a series of open houses are scheduled for February.
The open houses closest to Skagit County will be held at 6 p.m. Feb. 21 in Bellingham and at 6 p.m. Feb. 22 in Darrington.
Skagit County Commissioner Lisa Janicki said she is disappointed no open houses will be held in the county.
“I would give them the commissioners room in Mount Vernon to hold a meeting,” she said. “I think it’s unfair for people who are going to be directly affected in east county to have to go to Bellingham or 45 minutes down to Darrington to hear about the proposal.”
National Park Service spokeswoman Denise Shultz said it was a challenge to choose meeting locations throughout a seven-county area.
“We struggled with where to have them because obviously we can’t have them in every community,” Shultz said.
Two online meetings, called webinars, will be held at 11 a.m. on Feb. 14 and at 5 p.m. on Feb. 26. The webinars can be accessed at parkplanning.nps.gov/grizzlydeis.
The grizzly bear was listed as a threatened species throughout the U.S., excluding in Alaska, under the Endangered Species Act in 1975, according to a news release. Washington listed the species as endangered in 1980.
The North Cascades has one of six grizzly bear populations in North America, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. The grizzly bear’s North Cascades habitat includes 13,600 square miles, 9,800 of which is in the U.S.
The last confirmed sighting of a grizzly bear in the U.S. portion of the North Cascades was in 1996, according to the release.
Biologists estimate there are fewer than 10 grizzly bears remaining in the area, according to a news release from Conservation Northwest, which calls the North Cascades grizzly bear North America’s most at-risk bear population.
“Returning this magnificent animal to the North Cascades is a rare opportunity to restore our natural heritage ... leaving the North Cascades a bit wilder for future generations,” Joe Scott, international programs director for Conservation Northwest, said in the release.
During a previous public comment period regarding the EIS for restoring North Cascades grizzly bears, Skagit County residents offered a range of views. Some supported the idea, while others raised concerns about grizzly bear attacks in upriver communities and popular tourist areas.
The North Cascades is one of five regions in the U.S. where recovery work is being considered.