Lawsuit threatened over about-face on grizzly reintroduction

SEATTLE (AP) — A conservation group is threatening to sue the Trump administration over its sudden reversal of plans to restore grizzly bears in the North Cascade mountain range of Washington state.

The Center for Biological Diversity sent a letter Wednesday giving notice that it intends file a federal lawsuit in 60 days unless the Interior Department resumes its efforts to reintroduce the apex predator.

The group said the Endangered Species Act mandates the bears’ recovery.

The administration scrapped the plans this month, saying local residents made clear they opposed having more grizzlies in the region.

Grizzly bears once thrived in the North Cascades and many other areas throughout the American West. But they were shot, poisoned and trapped nearly to extinction — many with the reward of a government bounty — as white settlers encroached on their habitat.

They were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1975.

The government’s recovery efforts have focused on six areas of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and eastern Washington state — especially the area around Yellowstone National Park, where the population has increased to about 700 bears.

But conservationists have long considered the North Cascades, one of the largest remaining wild areas in the country, a prime location for restoring the bears.

Just a few are believed to remain there, but experts say the area’s prime habitat could support a population of 280.

The Interior Department in 2015 began planning to bring bears from other regions to the North Cascades, a halting process that seemed to get a boost in 2018 when then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced his support. Zinke later resigned amid ethics investigations, and earlier this month, Interior Secretary David L. Bernhardt announced the agency was scrapping the plans.

“The Trump Administration is committed to being a good neighbor, and the people who live and work in north central Washington have made their voices clear that they do not want grizzly bears,” Bernhardt said in a news release.

The Interior Department did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the lawsuit threat.

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