John Muir Would Be Proud
Conservationists are looking to re-introduce the
Grizzly back into the Golden State.
By Mariel Garza
Not that long ago, grizzly bears ruled the wild places of the western United States, ranging the length of California from the coastal mountains in the south to the Cascade Range in the north.
The brown bears were so ubiquitous that early Californians chose one to adorn their flag, a symbol of the state – awesome, powerful and unstoppable.
No other creature in the land could outfight Ursus arctos horribilis. Not until we came along.
Humans nearly drove this majestic creature into oblivion, slaughtering them for sport, revenge or profit. It’s the official state animal of California, even though it doesn’t live here anymore.
Now, 92 years after the last California grizzly bear was killed in Tulare County, there’s an effort to return them to their ancestral homelands. Or at least those that haven’t been swallowed up by development and could sustain a predator that has been known to grow as large as 2,200 pounds.
Places such as California’s Sierra Nevada.
It’s one of the few locations that the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group, is proposing as ideal for a return of the grizzly.
In a petition submitted last month to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the group is urging adding to the current grizzly bear recovery zones. Those additions include the Sierra Nevada and three other spots: Mogollon Rim in Arizona and Gila Wilderness in New Mexico; Grand Canyon in Arizona; and Uinta Mountains in Utah.
Though saved from extinction by federal listing as an endangered species, and now numbering as many as 1,800 in the lower 48 states, the grizzly, or brown bear, exists in only a few spots outside of Alaska – islands around Yellowstone and Glacier national parks in Wyoming and Montana.
As an avid hiker with an appreciation for, and healthy fear of, bears, this news both thrilled and alarmed me. I like the idea of a once-threatened species returning to its former habitat. I cheered when OR7, the gray wolf, crossed into California in 2011, the first wolf to return to the Golden State in 70 years.
But when it comes to 1-ton predators, especially those that sometimes eat people, out of sight is my preference. Way out of sight. “You know what that means?” a friend asked last weekend as we hiked around Euer Valley near Truckee. “We’d have to hike with rifles.”
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|Exterminated by Man|
A group of young visitors get their first look at Monarch Thursday April 28, 2011. The last California grizzly bear, who is named Monarch, is stuffed and on display at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, Calif. Monarch died in 1911, having lived out his life in San Francisco. He is the famous grizzly bear on the state flag.
The dark brown bear named Monarch was captured in 1889 in a publicity stunt concocted by newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst and kept for 22 years in a cage. California's last captive grizzly, whose image is on the state flag, died 100 years ago this month in Golden Gate Park.
(San Francisco Chronicle)
Photo: Brant Ward, The Chronicle