an adult grizzly bear rummages through the bushes in glacier national park

Grizzly Bears in the North Cascades? We’re one step closer to it happening

The National Park Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service have unveiled a final environmental impact statement (EIS) evaluating the reintroduction of grizzly bears to Washington’s North Cascades ecosystem, an area where they historically thrived.

The detailed EIS marks a significant step in efforts to restore the bear population, which has been nearly decimated due to overhunting throughout the 20th century. The last confirmed sighting in the U.S. section of the North Cascades Ecosystem was in 1996.

No Final Decision Just Yet

This comprehensive document does not issue a final decision but explores the repercussions of various reintroduction strategies. It highlights the preferred approach of relocating grizzly bears from other locations with an experimental population designation.

A grizzly bear looks at the camera
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

This method, supported by section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act, aims to equip local land managers and communities with advanced tools for managing the bears should they be reintroduced.

The EIS also considers alternative strategies, including a ‘no action’ approach and the possibility of moving bears without the experimental status but with current protections. The analysis extends to potential impacts on local wildlife, wilderness characteristics, recreational activities, public safety, socio-economic factors, and ethnographic resources.

A final decision is expected in the upcoming weeks following a public consultation period that significantly shaped the EIS’s development. During its public review last fall, the draft version received over 12,000 comments, and numerous individuals contributed through regional meetings.

These insights have been integrated into the final document, reflecting widespread community engagement in decision-making.

What You Need to Know About Grizzlies in the North Cascades

Are Grizzly Bears coming back to the North Cascades?

While it is not final and doesn’t recommend anything definitive, two action alternatives suggest introducing grizzly bears to the North Cascades in the coming years. The Preferred Alternative Action reintroduces up to seven grizzlies each year.

As a personal belief, I think they will opt to reintroduce them.

a mama grizzly looks at the camera

How many grizzlies could be introduced each year?

There will only be a handful of bears introduced each year to start. From the report:

All action alternatives would seek to achieve a grizzly bear restoration population
of 200 bears
. The no action alternative (alternative A) would continue existing management practices and assumes no new management actions would be implemented. Under both action alternatives, it is anticipated that 3 to 7 grizzly bears would be released into the NCE each year over roughly 5 to 10 years, with a goal of establishing an initial population of 25 grizzly bears before switching to adaptive management.

*Bolds added by me for clarity*

sahale glacier camp north cascades
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Will it be safe to hike in the North Cascades?

Overall, yes, it will be. The North Cascades are a very rugged mountain range that doesn’t see much travel outside of established trails. These areas know enough traffic that bears will quickly realize they want nothing to do with them.

While it won’t be like Glacier National Park or Canada, hikers should start carrying bear spray to be extra safe. Hiking alone may be discouraged once the bear numbers increase in years to come.

Are there currently grizzly bears in the US portion of the North Cascades?

All current analyses and reports say there are no grizzly bears in the North Cascades National Park or surrounding areas. They were last seen in the mid-90s.

When might a determination be made?

This is the great unknown. The NPS website says, “Agencies anticipate issuing a record of decision following a waiting period of no less than 30 days after the release of this final EIS.”

So we have to wait at least a month, but I assume there will be some foot-dragging with a topic like this.

The agencies published a nine-page FAQ that has answers to additional questions you may have.

Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside