North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park

Grizzly Bears Are Vanishing From Washington's North Cascades National Park

February 3, 2011, 1:36 pm

Washington’s North Cascades National Park lies at the center of some of the most protected, well- connected wildlife habitat in the Lower 48.

Wolves have started making their way back into the landscape, wandering on their own accord across the Canadian border, just a stone’s throw to the north. Fishers are on a promising road to recovery. Wolverines, lynx and black bear populations are thriving.

It’s a near-perfect cast of characters, except for one gaping void: grizzly bears.

In 1993, a report by a coalition of land and wildlife management agencies estimated that fewer than 20 bears were using the North Cascades; the last confirmed sighting of a grizzly bear in the region was 15 years ago. One individual was photographed by a camera trap in 2009, but on Canada’s side.

“As more time goes by, you have to wonder what’s happening to the few bears we have left,” says Bill Gaines, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service and member of the North Cascades Interagency Grizzly Bear Subcommittee, a group of federal agencies that developed a recovery plan for grizzly bears in the Northwest.

“There’s no geographical connection to more robust populations, aside from a very small number of bears in Canada - - but that population is very much in trouble like ours. The more time goes by, the fewer options we’ll have for bear recovery here. And they probably won’t make it without human assistance.”