The North Cascade mountain range is characterized by rugged terrain mountains spanning both sides of the Canada-US border which once supported healthy transboundary grizzly bear populations.
In 2015, the ONA Chief’s Executive Council (CEC) passed a Tribal Council Resolution declaring kiɁlawnaɁ at risk and in immediate need of recovery throughout Syilx territory, including in the North Cascades. Furthermore, in 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recognized this population to be Critically Endangered due to its extreme demographic and genetic isolation. The main factors believed to be responsible for the extreme decline in date back to the mid-19th century when large numbers of grizzly bears were commercially trapped and killed due to fears over potential conflicts. Syilx Knowledge Keepers confirm that settlers historically overhunted grizzly bears to drive population numbers down and exploit bears for commercial markets. kiɁlawnaɁ populations in the North Cascades have only been further undermined due to ecosystems fragmentation, industrial, and commercial development, and increased environmental disturbances due to climate change, that have pushed grizzlies further and further out of their original range. Remnant grizzly bear populations on both sides of the Canada-US border have not recovered from these impacts.
The ONA continue to assess the quality and availability of bear habitat as part of the recovery actions to bring kiɁlawnaɁ back to the North Cascade mountain range ecosystem. These studies use traditional ecological knowledge and science in the assessment of human-bear relationships and to improve habitat conditions and connectivity.
Collaborative management processes help demonstrate Syilx presence and responsibility for the land and resources, and provide capacity to help position the ONA and its member communities as leaders in conservation management. We have partnered with other Nations and bands (Upper Similkameen Indian Band, S’ólh Téméxw Stewardship Alliance, Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal Council, St’át’imc Nation and Simpcw First Nation), the Province, Conservation Northwest and the Coast to Cascades Initiative as part of the Southwest BC Grizzly Bear Stewardship Steering Committee and Indigenous Working Group. The ONA leads and participates in discussions with these groups to identify and address specific issues affecting population viability of the North Cascades grizzly bears.
In 2021, the ONA began developing the North Cascades kiɁlawnaɁ Stewardship Strategy. The Strategy will include long term objectives and provide a framework for implementing actions needed to restore habitat connectivity and ensure future viability of grizzly bears in the North Cascades. Understanding how humans and bears can coexist and share this landscape is foundational to the success of population recovery efforts. This process requires a deep understanding of relationships held by indigenous peoples to the land and how cultural values and knowledge systems can guide us in upholding our responsibilities to kiɁlawnaɁ. The priority actions and recommendations developed in the North Cascades ki?lawna? Stewardship Strategy are informed by indigenous knowledge, values and perspectives. The ONA is also applying scientific information we have gathered through updated GIS habitat models and field assessments conducted since 2018.
The ONA is also supportive of the ongoing grizzly bear recovery efforts conducted within the North Cascades Ecosystem in Washington State (which borders our work here in Canada), following the announcement of a new environmental impact statement (EIS) process for the North Cascades Ecosystem Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan. The ONA will continue to contribute towards discussions about the ecological and cultural considerations for bringing ki?lawna? back to their traditional lands on both sides of the border.
The ONA will work towards the following initiatives for grizzly bear population recovery within the North Cascades, and have currently taken up the following activities:
• Continue supporting the work of the Southwest BC Grizzly Bear Stewardship Steering Committee and Indigenous Working Group
• Finalizing and implementing the North Cascades Grizzly Bear Stewardship Strategy and developing restoration plans to improve habitat quality and connectivity for kiʔlawnaʔ. This will eventually lead to kiʔlawnaʔ reintroduction in the region.
• Developing a plan for education and outreach support needed to ensure kiʔlawnaʔ recovery and human-bear coexistence efforts are understood by both Nation members and the public
For more information on this project please visit: https://www.syilx.org/projects/north-cascades/