Rewilding the North Cascades
Brenda Cunningham, Mount Vernon, Washington
Brenda, a retired biologist, became involved with the North Cascades’ grizzly recovery campaign in 2016 through a small- group gathering hosted by NPCA. She has since proven to be an invaluable grassroots mobilizer, leveraging her networks to turn out attendees and gain support for the cause. She has written letters, attended meetings, testified and led local outreach. It’s no surprise that then-Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke chose a visit to her county as the ideal time to announce his support for the bear’s recovery.
The North Cascades’ rugged mountains represent a nearly intact ecosystem. There’s just one missing ingredient: grizzly bears. Though this species’ history in the region extends back nearly 20,000 years, it took only a century of hunting and trapping to decimate the local grizzly population. The last legal kill of a bear occurred in 1967, just one year before North Cascades National Park was created. Efforts to protect grizzly bears began at that time, but the species never recovered. Today, scientists estimate that fewer than five grizzly bears may remain in Washington’s North Cascades.
Were we to restore a healthy grizzly bear population, the North Cascades ecosystem would again be home to all its major native carnivores. Not only would a healthy grizzly bear population help to restore the natural environment of the North Cascades, but the species is also culturally important to many Native American tribes and Canadian First Nations in the region.
In January 2017, the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies released several draft options to restore the grizzly bear population of the North Cascades Ecosystem. 126,000 members of the public submitted comments as part of this process, the vast majority of which were in favor of restoration. As of early 2019, the agencies were reviewing the comments, but the government shutdown and other factors delayed the process. NPCA continues to push for a final decision that would bring the bears back into the North Cascades and ensure their careful management.