The North Cascades is one of the most magnificent wild ecosystems in the world. But all is not well in this wilderness paradise. Grizzly bears and wolves are present only in small numbers, nowhere near their natural population levels. Both species are essential for proper functioning of the North Cascades ecosystem. As demonstrated in Yellowstone Park, large predators control herbivore populations and smaller predator populations, ultimately impacting vegetation growth and other major ecosystem characteristics.
Grizzly bears are often portrayed by the media as vicious and highly unpredictable. In fact, they are very reclusive creatures that act aggressive toward humans only in specific situations, usually when they feel threatened by human actions. Grizzly bears in the North Cascades are omnivores, with about 10% of their diet as meat or fish, and much of that winter killed carrion. Research has indicated that suitable habitat and adequate food sources are present in the North Cascades for maintaining at least 400 grizzly bears.
Wolves are extremely intelligent animals with a complex and fascinating social structure. There have been only two documented incidents in North America of wild wolves involved in human fatalities. Wolf livestock kills are not nearly as common as thought. Wolves generally prey on ungulates, with elk being the preferred prey and deer a close second. Wolves usually prey on old or injured animals, thus helping to maintain the vigor of prey species.
NEW! Pacific Fisher Reintroduction Project
Have you ever seen a Pacific fisher [Pekania pennanti] in the North Cascades? Some of our senior members might have been so fortunate. It was declared extirpated in the 1990s, and none have been observed there since. In 2004 the Pacific fisher was placed on the federal Endangered Species list. But wait, didn’t NCCC fight hard to get North Cascades National Park established  to protect all the species and their habitats in that region? What happened? So far, no one has identified a smoking gun (or a sneaky trap) to say why the species disappeared.
Starting in 2008, some 90 fishers captured in central British Columbia were imported into Olympic National Park and released. Formal results of this action should be released soon. Preliminary reports are positive, so North Cascades National Park and Mt. Rainier National Park are teaming up with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and many others to reintroduce fishers into known previously occupied habitats, starting in 2015. [See map of current versus former range below].
“Considered extirpated (absent) from Washington since the mid-1990s, the Pacific fisher (Pekania pennanti) is the only native carnivore that is no longer found within the Cascade Range of Washington State. In 1998, the State formally listed the fisher as endangered, and in 2004, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the West Coast fisher as a federal candidate for listing as an endangered or threatened species.” Read more on the NPS website…
Grizzly Bear Conservation
History of Grizzly Bears in the North Cascades
Before Europeans arrived, grizzly bears were thriving throughout most of western North America. Hudson Bay Company trapping records show almost 4,000 grizzly bear hides shipped from trading posts in or near the North Cascades from 1827 and 1859. Today, it is estimated that only 20 to 40 grizzly bears remain in the North Cascades of Washington and British Columbia. This steep population decline is attributed to commercial trapping, habitat loss, and unregulated hunting. An isolated population, a restricted gene pool, and a very slow reproductive rate will make it almost impossible for North Cascade grizzly bears to recover naturally.
Preliminary steps have been taken toward grizzly bear recovery in the US North Cascades. The grizzly bear was listed as Threatened under the US Endangered Species Act in 1975. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) designated the North Cascades as one of six recovery areas in the lower 48 states. Protection for grizzly bears has been built into federal land management plans (e.g., National Forest Plans). Important steps have also been taken to reduce non-natural food attractants for bears (i.e., garbage, birdfeed, pet food, and other foods that attract bears to residential areas). Opinion surveys have demonstrated that a strong majority of residents in and around the North Cascades support grizzly bear recovery. Everything is ready to go in the Washington North Cascades, but the process has stalled at the federal level.
During the past decade, British Columbia has moved ahead of the US on grizzly bear recovery in the North Cascades by planning and partially implementing an augmentation program using bears from Wells Gray Provincial Park. The augmentation effort has been put on hold by the BC Ministry for the Environment. The delay has been attributed to concerns about the effectiveness of grizzly bear augmentation programs.
Grizzly Bear Advocacy Today
Further progress on grizzly bear conservation in the Washington North Cascades requires an Environmental Impact Study (EIS). Federal funding is needed for the USFWS to implement the EIS. The USFWS recognizes the need for an EIS, but states that EIS funding is precluded by necessary spending on other endangered species. The Washington Congressional delegation, the USFWS, and other partners need to work together to generate funding for this critical study that will resolve how grizzly bear conservation should proceed in the Washington North Cascades.
Only limited steps are being taken by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to recover the North Cascades grizzly bear population. The Washington State Legislature has allocated $454,000 toward implementation of a federal EIS, but these funds can not be expended until the USFWS takes action. WDFW needs to increase their grizzly bear conservation efforts and Washington State legislators need to continue their call for grizzly bear conservation (renew future funding for the EIS) until the USFWS finally hears that Washington residents really want grizzly bears in the North Cascades.
Here is a letter we sent to WDFW’s Director:
Recent discussions among the North Cascades Subcommittee of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee indicate that after 20 years there may be some progress toward grizzly bear recovery in the North Cascades Ecosystem. North Cascades Conservation Council strongly supports the restoration of grizzly bears throughout the North Cascades Ecosystem, with the North Cascades National Park Complex as the anchor of this area.
Grizzly bears were once quite prevalent and widely distributed throughout the greater Pacific Northwest. Although nobody seems to know for sure how many grizzly bears now roam the Cascades, one thing is certain – there are precious few. With the return of the gray wolf, increased wolverine appearances in the Cascades and your Department’s outstanding effort to restore Pacific fishers to the state, the grizzly bear alone remains without a plan – or a future in the Cascades.
Besides enhancing the resilience of the species, there are many reasons to save grizzly bears in the North Cascades. As a species with large area requirements grizzly bears may be considered an umbrella species, the conservation of which will benefit other species. The grizzly is a western icon with strong public support, symbolic of our independence, toughness and love of wildness. Grizzly bears epitomize and safeguard wilderness. Perhaps most importantly, our legacy must be one of conservation and restoration, not extinction.
To allow these animals to become extirpated from this region is not only ecologically unwise but morally wrong. We have the habitat and the resources, and a highly educated supportive public to help realize grizzly bear recovery in this area.
There are no excuses for continued inaction. When we recover grizzlies, future generations will be grateful for our vision. Action now will help us retain the wild heart of our magnificent North Cascades for decades to come. We cannot wait any longer before moving forward on this vital recovery effort.
There are enthusiastic partners in a grizzly bear recovery effort. The National Park Service has dedicated $640,000 towards an Environmental Impact Statement on grizzly bear recovery. Also, the bi-national Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission has dedicated at least a quarter of a million dollars for the same purpose. But those funds won’t remain in the bank forever. Agency partners like the USFS have also pledged in-kind support for the recovery process.
We understand the DFW mission is sometimes very difficult to realize. But since Americans have been unflagging in their support for our irreplaceable wildlife heritage, we are confident that the majority of the public will support a grizzly bear recovery effort. Helping to guide the recovery of such a charismatic animal is a uniquely American privilege that our communities would embrace.
We urge you to provide leadership and allow the public process to proceed through an Environmental Impact Statement that could help guide grizzly bear recovery in the North Cascades. Let’s put our democratic process to work for the grizzly bear and our communities.
The British Columbia Ministry for the Environment also needs to restart its augmentation program that will bring additional grizzly bears into the BC North Cascades. Research publications have clearly documented that grizzly bear augmentation programs are successful if young females are placed into areas with adequate habitat and food.
Gray Wolf Conservation
History of Gray Wolves in the North Cascades
Before Europeans arrived, wolves roamed nearly all of North America from Alaska to Mexico and the Pacific to the Atlantic. Trapping for furs decimated wolf populations in the North Cascades and much of the rest of the North America. Extermination programs (i.e., trapping, poisoning, and shooting) further suppressed wolf populations in the North Cascades. By 1930, wolves were thought to be extirpated from the Washington North Cascades and were rarely seen in the British Columbia North Cascades.
Wolves are listed as Endangered under the US Endangered Species Act. They are also listed as endangered by the State of Washington. These listings preclude the hunting, trapping, shooting, harassing, or capturing of gray wolves in the Washington North Cascades. Wolves are classified as big game animals in British Columbia, although hunting is very limited in the North Cascades.
Primary threats to the long-term survival of wolves in the North Cascades include habitat loss (i.e., residential development of lowlands needed by wolf prey species), over hunting of wolf prey species (i.e., elk and deer), and human induced wolf mortality (i.e., poaching, predator control, and hunting in British Columbia).
The wolf population in the North Cascades is very low. However, there have been occasional sightings since the early 1990s. Three packs with pups have been observed in the Washington North Cascades, indicating that reproduction has taken place. Wolf pups were photographed in 1991 near Hozemeen along Ross Lake. Adult wolf sightings have also been reported from the Pasayten Wilderness and the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Recent reports document wolf presence in the Methow and Twisp River valleys.
The biology and behavior of gray wolves is conducive to population recovery in the North Cascades. Wolves reproduce at a young age and often have large litters. Areas with adequate prey abundance can be colonized rapidly.
A wolf recovery program in Rocky Mountains has resulted in a few wolves moving into eastern Washington. It is likely just a matter of time until packs from northeast Washington colonize the North Cascades and create the potential for wolf population expansion throughout the state.
WDFW is responding to wolf colonization through development of a Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. The plan will identify locations and population goals for gray wolf recovery in Washington. It will also establish criteria for responding to wolf predation on livestock (i.e., agency predator control).
Wolf Advocacy Today
Now is the time for conservation advocates to speak up for wolf recovery in the North Cascades. WDFW and the Washington State legislators need to know that North Cascades’ residents support wolf recovery. Wolf population goals in Wolf Conservation and Management Plan should reflect the public’s strong support for wolf population recovery throughout the state.
Conservation advocates must also remain vigilant in protecting lowland habitats for wolf prey species. Urban growth boundaries must be maintained and efforts should be made to restore the natural function of lowland areas that have been dominated by agriculture in the recent past.
Elk and deer are big game animals in Washington State. Hunting quotas for these species need to reflect a balanced approach that leaves adequate prey for wolves. Wolf recovery advocates must be present to speak up for the needs of wolves when these hunting quotas are being set.
Limiting human induced mortality of wolves should be a top priority for conservation groups. Predator control by wildlife agencies is driven by complaints from a vocal minority opposed to wolves. Conservation advocates must counter this pressure with frequent calls for wolf protection. Enforcement of legal protections for wolves is essential. Conservation advocates should encourage the USFWS and WDFW to follow-up aggressively on every illegal wolf kill.
NCCC sends Action Alerts by email to its members to enable them to speak out about grizzly bear and wolf conservation. Members advocated for policy changes, including writing letters to elected officials promoting grizzly bear EIS funding and comments to WDFW on the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. Join NCCC and provide your email address and you’ll begin receiving our Action Alerts!
Major Current Issues / Activities
- Advocate for US federal and other funding for conducting an Environmental Impact Statement that will determine the best strategies for grizzly bear recovery in the Washington State North Cascades.
- Encourage the British Columbia Ministry for the Environment to fully implement their grizzly bear augmentation program in the British Columbia North Cascades.
- Advocate for ecologically sound wolf population goals and management policies in the Washington Wolf Conservation and Management Plan being developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
What You Can Do To Help
- Join NCCC and provide us your email address – we’ll send you email Action Alerts.
- Ask your friends, neighbors, and colleagues to join the NCCC.
Tom Hammond (firstname.lastname@example.org)