The Origin and Debate of the Bear Crisis

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California State Flag; courtesy of Wikipedia

It is fair to assume that almost everyone is familiar with the California State flag, especially the grizzly bear poised on the patch of green grass. 

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Monarch on display at the California Academy of Sciences

What most people aren’t aware of is that the grizzly bear on the flag is the only one left in the entire state, and his name is Monarch. Monarch was brought to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco in 1889 and kept in a
cage until his death in 1911, when his pelt was stuffed and given to the California Academy of Sciences for display. Following the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, Monarch became the 
symbol of recovery for the area, and he was soon adopted as the symbol on the state flag. 

The grizzly bear used to have widespread populations throughout the state before early settlers came for the Gold Rush in 1948. Because of the seemingly aggressive and threatening nature of Ursus arctos californicus, explorers didn’t hesitate to seek out and kill as many grizzlies as they could. Since the first expeditions across the continent, 98% of the historical grizzly bear population has been eliminated in the American West.

Within the past few years, efforts have been made to reach out to state and federal wildlife organizations concerning the topic of reintroducing the grizzly bear into California where it once roamed freely. One of these organizations, The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), created a petition in July 2015 to the California Fish and Wildlife Commission campaigning for the return of the threatened grizzly bear after their appeals to the federal government fell flat. CBD believes that the reintroduction of the grizzly bear into over 8,000 square miles of wilderness in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, once their native habitat, would be successful in welcoming back the majestic animal that once called the state home, as well as open the door for more wildlife protection and conservation in the West.

In opposition to the grizzly reintroduction, many people feel that it would be dangerous and unwise to bring the large predator back. California is

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Grizzly taking a snow bath, photo by Devin Manky; courtesy of National Geographic

populated with many people, and the bears would have only a limited range of wilderness area, beyond which lies human habitat where the bears could potentially pose a threat. Addressing the fact that the bears were once exterminated in California, Erin Hauge from the Sacramento Bee claims that the extinction of the California grizzly shows exactly how that story ends. In addition to her fears about human encounters, Erin states, “the loss of the California grizzly bear speaks for all endangered species. Let the grizzly on California’s state flag serve to honor those great bears who once roamed the mountains and grasslands of California with impunity.”

An incident in Tulare County, California in November of last year highlights the conflicting aspects of bear reintroduction. Wildlife Biologist Evan King and reporter Ezra David Romero were on their way to Kaweah Oaks Preserve to explore what the environment looked like before settlers moved into almost every open area in the state when they received a call about a black bear that was sighted very close to a school. Although the bear was only sleeping in a tree, imagine if it were a grizzly bear, which can be as large as 2,000 pounds. The risks reintroduction poses are difficult to weigh against the optimistic result of allowing an extinct species to once again flourish. 

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