MISSOULA, Mont. — Work to restore grizzly bears to the North Cascades Ecosystem has been stopped by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s office, a national parks official told a Montana newspaper.
But Zinke spokeswoman Heather Swift told The Associated Press Tuesday that Zinke did not direct a stop work order on the environmental review. Swift didn’t provide further details.
North Cascades National Park Superintendent Karen Taylor-Goodrich told the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee last week that her staff had been asked to halt work on its environmental review, the Missoulian reported .
She said the order also stalls discussions with Canadian wildlife managers who oversee a similar grizzly recovery process in British Columbia.
“We were in the process of evaluating public comment,” Taylor-Goodrich said of the stop order. “We’re in year three of the process and all the public scoping has been done. The draft EIS went out for public review in spring and we’ve received about 127,000 comments.”
A park spokeswoman in Washington state on Tuesday referred all questions to the Interior Department.
The National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been considering four options to restore the grizzly population, including taking no action.
Three alternatives seek to restore a population of about 200 bears, by relocating animals to 9,800 square miles of mostly public land in and around North Cascades National Park and letting them breed. The options differ in the number of bruins initially released and the time expected to get to that goal, ranging from 25 years for the expedited option to 60 to 100 years for the other two alternatives.
Supporters of the proposals to bring back the population say the population won’t recover without help and their return would increase the biodiversity of the ecosystem.
Others say the animals should recover naturally, while some worry about potential increased dangers to recreationists and livestock and opposed the move over potential impacts to communities, ranchers, farmers and others.
Federal officials have noted that grizzly bears would be relocated in remote areas. They would likely come from areas in northwestern Montana or south-central British Columbia.
They were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1975. In the North Cascades, the population is estimated to be fewer than 20 animals, according to Fish and Wildlife Service.
A federal 1997 plan designated the North Cascades as one of five grizzly bear recovery zones. The others are in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.