Mixed messages are being sent about whether the environmental impact statement, or EIS, for restoring grizzly bears to the North Cascades has been halted.
The Missoulian, a newspaper serving Missoula, Montana, reported Dec. 16 that at an Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee meeting that week, North Cascades National Park officials said the Department of the Interior issued a stop work order for the EIS.
The agenda for the meeting lists park superintendent Karen Taylor-Goodrich as providing updates on the EIS process, but does not suggest the work was to be halted.
The National Park Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service — both under the Interior — are working together on the EIS.
Spokeswomen for the National Park Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service responded to inquiries from the Skagit Valley Herald about the alleged halt of the EIS with the same email.
“The North Cascades ecosystem grizzly bear recovery plan is co-managed by two Department of the Interior bureaus: The US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service. For further information on the plan please contact the Department,” the emails states.
Department of the Interior Press Secretary Heather Swift referred back to the Park Service, stating: “The Secretary (of the Interior) never directed a stop work order on the EIS. If the park stopped it, it wasn’t because the Secretary told them to.”
The draft EIS released in January evaluates the potential impacts of four options for the restoration of North Cascades grizzly bears, which are estimated to be at as few as 10 animals.
The scenarios range from leaving the remaining bears as they are in the North Cascades to bringing grizzly bears into the region from other areas to increase the region’s population to as many as 200 bears within 25 to 100 years.
The Skagit County commissioners, along with commissioners from neighboring Chelan and Okanogan counties, sent a letter this summer to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke opposing bringing grizzlies to the North Cascades.
In April, the commissioners requested a meeting with Park Service and Fish & Wildlife Service officials during which they asked the EIS to be redone and more thoroughly consider potential impacts to local communities.
It’s unclear whether that is happening, or whether the EIS process has been put on hold.