Alanna Mayham

(CN) — Grizzly bears may finally make their way back to the North Cascades in Washington state. The federal government rolled out a draft plan Thursday that outlines options to restore the species in its historical range.

In its “North Cascades Ecosystem Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and National Park Service presents an environmental impact statement for potential approaches to grizzly bear reintroduction in northern Washington state — an area that has not seen a confirmed grizzly sighting since 1996, officials say.

The region is one of six "grizzly bear recovery zones," as designated by Fish and Wildlife, with others located in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. The wide-reaching zone in Washington includes the North Cascades National Park and spans 95,000 square miles.

The federal government’s most recent plan to support the threatened species arrived last year after the Center for Biological Diversity successfully challenged the Trump administration’s nixing of a previous grizzly restoration plan that was nearly complete.

This time around, the plan’s draft considers three alternatives to restore an initial population of 25 grizzly bears: one a no-action alternative, and two that anticipate the annual release of three to seven grizzlies, over five to ten years.

Should the agencies take action, Fish and Wildlife will either manage the zone’s bears as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act or designate the population as a nonessential experimental population under the same act. The latter option is preferred, the federal agencies say, as it would “provide state, federal and Tribal agencies with greater management flexibility should conflict situations arise.”

“Without management tools to sufficiently address conflicts between grizzly bears and humans, the escalation of conflict situations is likely to erode social tolerance for grizzly bear restoration among some groups,” the agencies write in the draft.

“Therefore, despite allowing lethal take in limited circumstances, the 10(j) designation is expected to improve social tolerance of grizzly bears and, in turn, improve the chances of establishing and maintaining a grizzly bear population in NCE.”

Fish and Wildlife regional director Hugh Morrison added to this sentiment in a statement on Thursday.

“If this part of our natural heritage is restored, it should be done in a way that ensures communities, property, and the animals can all coexist peacefully. [An] experimental designation could provide the tools to do that,” Morrison said.

Fish and Wildlife will take public comments on the agencies’ draft and preferred action between Sept. 29 and Nov. 13. During that period, the agencies will also host virtual and in-person community meetings to answer questions before ultimately preparing a final plan and decision document.

“I’m delighted to see that a plan to restore grizzly bears to the North Cascades is moving forward,” said Andrea Zaccardi, carnivore conservation legal director for the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “Grizzly bears once thrived in the North Cascades, and this is a good step toward bringing grizzlies back to this vast, wild area where they clearly belong.”