Homes for Wolves and Bears Alike

Now, you may be thinking that grizzly bears are dangerous and shouldn’t be allowed to return to such a densely populated state. Surely the government won’t agree to this. However, it may be surprising to know that gray wolves, another apex predator, are ever present in populated communities in America and Canada. In fact, gray wolves have had very successful reintroductions and reappearances in both Yellowstone National Park and Northern California in the past several decades, making me even more confident that reintroduction of bears would have huge success along with undebatable benefits.


After being exterminated from the greater Yellowstone are in the early 1900’s, gray wolves were reintroduced to the nation’s first national park in 1995. Since then, staggering effects have been observed.Although gray wolves used to extend over two-thirds of the United States, today their population is limited to several states. Biologists began brainstorming ideas about wolf reintroduction and soon after the first set of wolves were brought in from Canada. Efforts were made to allow the wolves to feel at home in the park, including the planting of elk carcasses by scientists.

Yellowstone-Wolf-Howl

Grey wolf howling; courtesy of www.yellowstonepark.com

The wolves stayed and made a home, and are now thriving in Yellowstone National Park as they did before their extirpation. Similar circumstances in Northern California, including more than enough allotted habitat, and scientists and organizations to monitor grizzly bears, create a potentially successful reintroduction for the bears, as Yellowstone created for the wolves.

The ecological benefits are very apparent as well. With the wolves mitigating the elk population, river bank plants and trees have begun to grow back, creating homes for beavers, otters and songbirds, food for bears, and hiding places for small mammals such as rabbits and mice.The biological diversity of the river ecosystem has bloomed, with many species of fish returning to successful living.

wolves-chase-elk

Wolves in Yellowstone National Park chase after an elk in deep snow. Photo by Dan Stahler of NPS

The quality of the water has greatly improved as well. The magnificent animals attract millions of visitors a year, bringing in lots of revenue for the National Park Service to continue maintaining beautiful parks for us to visit. Overall, the benefits that the wolves have created are far greater than anyone could’ve expected. Grizzly bears are crucial to ecological and biological diversity as well. By foraging for berries, distributing plant species, and monitoring large mammal populations such as elk, they help keep the balance of the ecosystem in check.

Although the gray wolf was never officially reintroduced to California, a small population has crossed the Oregon border into Northern California and called it home. Beginning in December 2011 when an Oregon wolf, designated OR7, wandered south into Siskiyou County as the first wild wolf in California in 87 years. OR7 journeyed over 700 miles to California and has traveled back and forth between California and Oregon for several years since. 

WCGrayWolfHabitat_03-22-2013

Grey wolf OR7’s journey through California; from CBD

Because of OR7’s journey into California, the Fish and Game Commission voted to add the Gray wolf to the state Endangered Species list, immediately protecting OR7 and any other wolves from harm by unhappy farmers, eager hunters, and the like. The petition for the gray wolf asserted that “suitable habitat still exists in California…Wolves are highly adaptable and have the ability to thrive in myriad geographical and climatic conditions throughout California”. In response to this new acceptance and protection of gray wolves, a small pack, referred to as the Shasta Pack, has moved into Siskiyou County in Northern California. As of August 2015, the pack consists of two adult wolves and five pups. This is the first pack seen in California since the last one was exterminated in 1924. Conservationists are excited about the wolves’ return and believe it was only a matter of time, as wolves did once roam free in the Sierra Nevada Mountains before they were killed off. The optimism surrounding the wolves’ return only brightens the prospect of grizzly bears returning to California as well. With the success of the wolves, it is highly likely and scientifically supported that grizzlies would thrive in their previously inhabited environment as well, as it is plenty of room and well away from populated areas.

With the success of gray wolves returning to several previously inhabited locations, I see very little argument against the return of the grizzly bear. By reintroducing the bear to California’s ecosystem, an amazing chain-reaction of events is likely to occur as it did with the wolves in Yellowstone. Major ecological changes and improvements would be made, on top of the opportunity it would bring for California to foster the perfect home for the big, brown, fuzzy creatures. Why should we deny an animal the right to live where it has its entire life? We wouldn’t like it much if it were the other way around, now would we…?

1113Dinnerfor2

Wolf and bear together: a rare sight; photo by Lassi Rautiainen

 

Advertisements

All in Favor, Say “I”!

Tunnel_View_Yosemite_National_Park_Panorama_20x40-L

Yosemite National Park; courtesy of J. Harrison Photo

Yosemite National Park in California is one of the best known National Parks in the country due to Half Dome’s recognizable silhouette, the famous Yosemite Falls, and the notorious climbing history behind El Capitan. But very few people know the story of the grizzly bear associated with Yosemite. A Park Ranger from Yosemite National Park posted a journal detailing the past presence of grizzly bears in Yosemite and bears impact on his life. The name Yosemite is thought to come from a manipulation of the Miwok word for grizzly bear, “uzumati”. In fact, the park, located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, was once native habitat for the California grizzly bear, before its extinction in 1924. Now the only bears in Yosemite are black bears. Not to mention, Yosemite Valley was first stumbled upon in 1849 by a group of European hunters who were following tracks of none other than a grizzly bear. The Ranger accounts his time spent in Yellowstone National Park, explaining how he lived in close proximity to grizzlies and other wildlife, and although he had to exercise extreme caution when hiking, any bear encounters resulted in the bears minding their own business and doing their best to stay away. He asserts that “the chance to observe an apex predator in the wild more than made up for the personal habits [he] had to alter”. I wholeheartedly agree with this Park Ranger and his sentiments about the grizzly bear population, and with his idea that the chance to coexist with and witness these incredible creatures would be more than worth the adjustments needed to make reintroduction possible. As important environmental factors, and as a cultural symbol of my home state of California, the grizzly bear truly deserves the chance to return to its former home.

Check out this video of a mother grizzly bear teaching her cubs to fish!


Not
only did grizzly bears once make their homes in the Sierra Nevada and coastal regions of California, they were considered a keystone species that played crucial roles in the shaping of the environment and local ecosystems. Disappearance of grizzly bears results in less species regulation of animals such as deer or elk, which graze in fields and reduce plant density. This can then have larger effects on small mammals and migratory birds. Grizzlies are also huge helpers when it comes to biological diversity of plants. By foraging for berries and spreading seeds via their fur, the bears help to create a diverse ecosystem that can sustain the thousands of other species within it.

David-Burke_MG_9914t-596x397

Grizzly bear foraging for berries, courtesy of National Geographic

As a threatened species under the Fish and Wildlife Service designation of Endangered Species, the grizzly bear needs some help. Noah Greenwald from the Center for Biological Diversity writes for the Los Angeles Times, claiming that the Fish and Wildlife service has a “legal duty under the Endangered Species Act [to] work to return grizzly bears to a larger portion of their suitable habitat across the West. This includes the Sierra Nevada, where scientists have identified sufficient space for a bear population.” After years of experience with these large mammals and other apex species, humans have enough knowledge to remain safe in reasonably close proximity with grizzly bears. This same article presents statistics from Yellowstone National Park claiming that there is only a 1 in 3 million chance of being attacked or injured by a grizzly bear in the park, where the bear population exceeds 800 animals. The Center for Biological Diversity has researched potential habitats for the bears and has concluded that 110,000 square miles of habitat exists in the West, including land in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This total amount of land would be enough for a healthy population of up to 6,000 grizzly bears to thrive. Although some may fear the danger grizzly bears present as large predatory animals, research supports the claim that the bears would be reintroduced a safe distance from developed areas and as wild animals shouldn’t be approached or threatened, as these are mostly the only causes for bear attacks.

la-oe-burrell-grizzly-bears-yellowstone-201407-001

Grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park, courtesy of LA Times

The grizzly bear is a prominent symbol of the State of California, featured on the flag and as the state animal, as well as the mascot for many California high school and colleges. It produces a strong sense of unique culture, and we as Californians represent ourselves as the Bear Flag State, asserting our strength and our pride with the image of this fierce and majestic animal. In addition to the sense of pride we get from the Bear Flag, grizzly bears are also an extremely sought after species for wildlife enthusiasts and explorers. These remarkable animals draw the respect of so many people, now it is time to put that respect to good use and bring the bears home.