The North Cascades are a mountain range characterized by rugged terrain spanning both sides of the Canada-US border, which once supported healthy transboundary grizzly bear populations. The British Columbian portion of the North Cascades range spans 9,808 km2 and in Washington state, the North Cascades Ecosystem Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone covers approximately 25,382 square km.
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 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 to exploit bears for commercial markets. kiɁlawnaɁ populations in the North Cascades have been further undermined due to habitat fragmentation and loss, industrial development, and increased environmental disturbances due to climate change; driving populations further out of their original range. Presently, remnant grizzly bear populations on both sides of the Canada-US border have not been able to recover from these cumulative impacts without the need for restorative interventions. Presently, within the Canadian region of the North Cascades it is estimated that the kiɁlawnaɁ population is comprised of 6 bears.
The ONA continues to assess the quality and availability of bear habitat as part of the recovery actions to bring kiɁlawnaɁ back to the North Cascades. These studies use traditional ecological knowledge and scientific methods to investigate habitat conditions and connectivity for bears and to understand how human-bear relationships may be improved to reduce potential for conflicts.
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. In recognition of our collective responsibilities to the land and ki?lawna, the ONA has partnered with neighbouring 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. The Steering Committee is tasked with:
• developing holistic kiɁlawnaɁ stewardship plans and strategies founded in the knowledge held and shared by the multiple Nations involved
• implementing stewardship strategies and on the ground actions to restore healthy grizzly bear populations
In 2021, the ONA began developing the North Cascades kiɁlawnaɁ Stewardship Strategy. The Strategy identifies stewardship responsibilities, recovery objectives and priorities. It will provide a framework for implementing near and long-term actions needed to restore grizzly bear habitat connectivity, improve human-bear coexistence and revitalize grizzly bear populations 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 their cultural values and knowledge systems can guide us in upholding our responsibilities to kiɁlawnaɁ. The priority actions and recommendations developed in the North Cascades kiɁlawnaɁ Stewardship Strategy are informed by Indigenous knowledge, values and perspectives and integrated with the scientific information ONA has gathered since 2018 through updating habitat suitability models and conducting field assessments.
The overarching goal of the North Cascades kiɁlawnaɁ Stewardship Strategy is to recover and re-connect self-sustaining, viable grizzly populations across healthy ecosystems across the North Cascades mountain ranges.
To achieve this goal, the Okanagan Nation Alliance is working in close partnership with neighbouring Nations, the provincial government and Conservation Northwest’s Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Initiative to see that the following spheres of committed actions are met, ensuring all necessary elements of shared stewardship are achieved:
Communication, Engagement and Educational Outreach
- Communicate and engage with Indigenous communities, local non-indigenous communities and the broader public to grow support for grizzly bear re-establishment, develop coexistence strategies and minimize risks for human-bear conflicts
- Engage stakeholders and key interest groups in the North Cascades in the grizzly bear recovery and habitat restoration process so that they may support Stewardship in their management plans and operations
- Maintain communications with Tribal, Federal and State government agencies in the US in support of transboundary North Cascades grizzly bear enhancement efforts
Enhance Habitat Availability, Connectivity and Climate Resiliency
Work together with resource managers in partner Nations, provincial government, liscencees and stakeholder groups to increase the availability of high quality habitat and forage for ki?lawna? through habitat restoration and proactive resource management planning. We will collectively continue to plan for improvements to habitat security and quality by working with forest licensees, recreational users, hunters and other land users to reduce the density of roads in areas important for kiɁlawnaɁ. Habitat restoration and management decisions need to also be adaptive to the changes we are experiencing in climate conditions now and into the future, to ensure both ecological and human communities in the North Cascades are able to cope with the events and trends associated with climate disruptions.
Promote and Support Human-Bear Coexistence to Minimize Potential for Conflicts between Humans and Bears
Guided by indigenous cultural knowledge we will develop coexistence strategies which are also rooted in the learned experiences gained in other grizzly bear recovery programs. We will work with indigenous and local communities, governmental agencies, non-government organizations, stakeholder groups and the general public to develop and implement these strategies so that potential for human-bear conflicts are managed proactively and thereby reduced.
Increase the number of grizzly bears in the population through augmentation from other viable population(s). Ensure that population fragmentation is prevented in the future, so as to maintain genetic diversity among subpopulations.
Monitoring Conducted Within an Adaptive Framework
The North Cascades ki?lawna? Stewardship Strategy is a living document promoting habitat restoration and on the ground actions needed to achieve grizzly bear recovery and protection. To ensure plans and actions are effective in meeting the above objectives, ongoing monitoring of effects and outcomes are necessary within the cultural, ecological and social realms so that any necessary adaptations can be made to the strategy and plans. Monitoring programs are therefore fundamental to the long term success of returning a self-sustaining grizzly bear population back to the North Cascades. We must monitor habitat restoration effectiveness and landscape forage supply to guide future resource management and restoration decisions, especially in the face of uncertain trends from a changing climate. Grizzly bears and population demographics (including birth rates and cub survival) must be regularly monitored to assess success of habitat stewardship efforts and efficacy of human-bear coexistence strategies. Equally important, we must monitor human experiences and social responses within the recovery process at the community level to ensure coexistence objectives are successful and sustainable.
In 2023/24 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 and lead the North Cascades Grizzly Bear Project Team
- Share knowledge and continued discussions with the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee’s (IGBC) North Cascades Ecosystem Subcommittee to support transboundary recovery efforts including promotion of cultural values, ecological processes and outreach programs.
- Finalizing and implementing the North Cascades Grizzly Bear Stewardship Strategy and begin implementing priority actions identified in the Strategy. This includes developing ecological restoration plans for high priority restoration locations identified through collective process. The restoration work will lead to improvements in 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 human-bear coexistence strategies are successfully adopted by Nation communities, local communities and tenure holders and the general public