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.
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.
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.