Reintroduction plan discussed
“We had some really good news come out of both Washingtons on July 7 when Secretary David Bernhardt announced the Department of the Interior (DOI) is not going to proceed with their 2015 plans to reintroduce grizzlies in the northern Cascades of Washington State,” says Kaitlynn Glover, executive director of both the National Beef Cattlemen’s Association (NCBA) and Public Lands Council (PLC).
Glover applauded Bernhardt and the DOI’s decision during NCBA’s Beltway Beef podcast on July 11.
“The department said they are instead going to listen to folks on the ground and focus on managing populations across the existing range, which is really good news,” she says.
Reason for the decision
In regards to why DOI decided against the reintroduction plan, Glover notes the DOI’s long history of managing and protecting large predators, as well as the challenges producers in the western U.S. face when sharing public lands with them.
“Grizzly bears had some history in the north Cascades, and over time, for a variety of reasons, those populations moved to other places. Then they didn’t have many grizzlies anymore,” she explains. “So, the plan over the last few years was to examine what it would look like if DOI were to relocate bears up to that area again.”
“Relocations are tricky in any scenario, but what the DOI would have been doing is dropping these bears in the middle of an ecosystem they haven’t been in for a really long time,” Glover further explains.
She points out the regulatory process for reintroducing grizzlies in the Cascades started in 2015.
“Through it all, NCBA and PLC focused on supporting our local affiliates,” Glover states. “These ranchers and producers said they did not want to see grizzly bears reintroduced into their community.”
She continues, “Really what this announcement comes down to is the cattlemen, sheep producers and community were able to stir up enough opposition, and the science didn’t support reintroduction, so ultimately DOI made the call that grizzly bears will not be reintroduced in the north Cascades, which is really good news.”
When asked about the wide-spread impacts of the reintroduction of grizzlies into the Cascades, Glover says it really comes down to science.
“As part of this investigation, DOI had to partake in an environmental analysis, meaning they had to conduct an environmental impact statement to analyze the ecology, socioeconomics and public safety if they were to reintroduce bears, and all of that fleshed out to say it didn’t make sense to reintroduce them to the area,” she explains.
She notes this is playing out in other populations across the U.S.
“Also in the news was the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) population of grizzly bears, which has been quite controversial and often litigated over the past few years,” she states. “This is a similar ecosystem in that there are bears and other predators, like wolves, interfaced in high mountain communities.”
In her GYE population example, Glover points out Idaho had a record number of large animal depredation investigations and confirmations last year.
“Similarly, Montana and Wyoming producers saw significant impacts as well,” she states. “And, we aren’t just talking about animal deaths. We are also talking about livestock stress, downed fences and some pretty significant resource limitations due to high densities of these predators.”
She continues, “We are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars of livestock losses in lost animals and lost yield, as well as millions of dollars that have been allotted to depredation payments and control methods.”
“Therefore, to have the decision that DOI is not going to cause these problems, instead it is stepping away from some of these reintroduction plans, I can’t explain how happy I was, not only for the ecosystem but for our ranchers and our communities as well,” she states.
“I want to be clear, our ranchers operate in scenarios where they deal with fires, flood and predators so they operate in pretty dangerous territory, and they are no stranger to this danger,” Glover states. “But, there is a problem when we are reintroducing apex predators that were not in the area for awhile. This causes a fundamental change in that ecosystem.”
She explains this causes further problems and years of fighting. The GYE grizzly population is an example.
“The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is a really important conservation tool for large predators, as well as many other species,” she says. “We put an animal on the list, help it recover and then we are supposed to delist it. But, take the GYE bear population, for example. Those bears have recovered and now we want to see those bears off the list, but there are litigious groups who are fighting to preserve those areas for bear management.”
“When we see how the ESA has been corrupted over time and used as a tool to lock up land, that is when it becomes a problem,” she adds.
Glover concludes, “DOI really avoided a situation where they would have been in a years-long fight over this bear introduction. By stepping away from reintroduction, they are going to be able to focus on species that actually need protection to persist into the future. This is a really smart decision on a lot of different fronts.”
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.