Feds Approve Grizzlies Back In Washington State, Wyoming Bears Could Be Used

Some of Wyoming’s grizzly bears will likely end up going to Washington state’s North Cascades after the federal government this week approved a reintroduction program there. Washington locals already hate the idea.

Mark Heinz

April 26, 20243 min read

A pair of Wyoming grizzlies in the Yellowstone Ecosystem.
A pair of Wyoming grizzlies in the Yellowstone Ecosystem. (Getty Images)

It’s official, grizzlies will be reintroduced to the Cascades ecosystem in Washington state. But whether Wyoming bears will be sent that way remains uncertain.

And many Washington locals don’t want them there anyway.

After years of considering the possibility, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week announced plans to start transplanting grizzlies to the Cascades region in northwest and northcentral Washington.

Washington Locals Not Happy

Regardless of whether any of those grizzlies come from Wyoming, it’s not likely they’ll get a warm welcome from locals in Washington, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Interior Rob Wallace told Cowboy State Daily.

Wallace is a Wyoming resident who oversaw the USFWS and NPS during his tenure. He recalled going to testify on behalf of the Interior Department during a 2019 public hearing on grizzly reintroduction in Omak, Washington.

“I could tell it was a going to be a controversial hearing when I pulled into the parking lot and saw law enforcement officers on the roof with sniper rifles,” he said.

Many locals in Omak and other small communities in the North Cascades region were strongly opposed to grizzlies being transplanted there, he said. They expressed worry over grizzlies attacking cattle, and possibly disrupting other existing land uses.

Will Wyoming Grizzlies Go?

No exact dates have been set for the reintroductions to begin, but the federal agencies say they plan to use grizzlies from existing “healthy populations,” possibly including Wyoming.

The plan is to release three to seven bears each year for five to 10 years until an initial population of 25 grizzlies is established in the North Cascades.

An inquiry from Cowboy State Daily to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department regarding whether the agency had been approached about providing bears hadn’t been answered by publication time.

There’s a chance that Game and Fish might be involved in the Washington reintroduction program, large carnivore specialist Dan Thompson previously told Cowboy State Daily.

“I don't want to speculate as to where bears would come from this early on, but we — agencies involved with Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears — will hopefully be part of future discussions as to how these things would occur,” Thompson said at the time.

‘Disconnect In Logic’

Wallace thinks there’s a “disconnect in the logic” of transplanting grizzlies from Wyoming or other states where the bears remain under federal endangered species protection.

“It’s very hard for me to see them (grizzlies) coming from Wyoming,” he said. “To take an endangered species, that they say there aren’t enough of, and send them off to the Cascades” seems to contradict the federal agencies’ own thinking.

A push to get grizzlies de-listed from Endangered Species Act protection in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho gained momentum last year, but seems to have fizzled out this year.

Reintroducing grizzlies to the North Cascades was also criticized by retired federal ecologist and grizzly conservation advocate Chuck Neal of Cody.

He previously told Cowboy State Daily that reintroduced grizzlies in the North Cascades could become an “island population” with no chance of intermingling with other populations of bears.

Mark Heinz can be reached at mark@cowboystatedaily.com.

Share this article



Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter