Grizzly bears symbolize our heritage, our history, where our country has come from, and the health of our ecosystems today. Ensuring a sustainable grizzly population in the North Cascades is not just a win for the bears, but a win for the American people, because it demonstrates our ability to act to bring the best of our heritage into the future.
—Chip Jenkins, Superintendent, North Cascades National Park
Tens of thousands of grizzlies once roamed western North America—including the North Cascades Ecosystem (NCE) of Washington and British Columbia. Historical records from the Hudson’s Bay Company show that 3,788 grizzly bear hides were shipped from three NCE trading posts from 1827–1859. Grizzlies throughout the West were decimated by trapping, hunting, and habitat loss during the 19th and 20th centuries. Ultimately, they were eliminated from 98% of their original range in the contiguous US.
Today, only a few grizzly bears are thought to remain in the North Cascades. Grizzlies have been protected in both the US and Canadian portions of the NCE for decades, but the population has not recovered from extremely low numbers. The last grizzly killed in Washington died in 1967, and the most recent confirmed sighting occurred in 1996.
In 2010, with oversight from the North Cascades Interagency Grizzly Bear Subcommittee, we and other project partners began an extensive survey to detect grizzlies now occupying Washington’s NCE. The results of this survey will assist the US Fish and Wildlife Service in evaluating potential options for grizzly bear recovery in the region.
The North Cascades are a key piece in the puzzle of grizzly bear recovery. With potential connections to grizzlies in the Selkirks—and ultimately the Rocky Mountains—a restored population here would help ensure the geographic and genetic resiliency of the species in North America. Such resiliency is especially critical in the face of climate change.