Among the jagged peaks of the North Cascades, lush alpine meadows rich with berries and wildflowers blanket valleys carved by glaciers, some threaded with trickling creeks. But these idyllic landscapes are missing one big thing that had helped sustain them over the millennia: grizzly bears.

That will soon change after federal officials decided last month to reintroduce grizzlies here, where there hasn’t been a confirmed sighting of the species in nearly three decades.

One study examining samples of spruce needles from trees growing up to 500 meters (1,640 feet) away from Alaska salmon streams found that about 17% of nitrogen 30 feet up in the air came from salmon and about 82% of it had passed through a grizzly bear.

If salmon can be recovered in significant numbers where bears live, they can be a critical link in moving ocean-derived nutrients into high elevation terrestrial environments, said Charles Robbins, a co-author on the studies and a professor and director of research at the Washington State University Bear Center. This would have an effect on all plants.

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