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The Golden Bear of California

View from the pass of Half Dome

View from the pass of Half Dome

Driving through Tioga Pass, I couldn’t help but think of California’s state flag…the great Golden  Bear, a sub-species of our Grizzly, now extinct.

Black bears are ubiquitous in the Sierras.  I’ve heard from friends that back country hikers are now required to carry their food in bear containers when backpacking, adding lots of extra weight to their packs.  Last time I camped in Yosemite Valley, bears walked continually through our campground which was shared with dozens of other campsites.

So my question is…Why not introduce the great Grizzly back to California?  Hey, people are getting used to living with black bears.  It’s just a little jump from the Black to the Grizzly.  Besides, there won’t be so many black bears with a few grizzlies around as they don’t share territory easily.  A little bit of googling and it seems others are asking the same question.  Not many others though, but a few.

As opposed to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem which is higher, colder, and food scarcer, California is warm with abundant food.  Apparently, a hundred and fifty years ago, grizzlies were everywhere, gathering even in ‘herds’, unusual for the usually solitary beast.  Salmon, acorns, abundant wildlife, washed up whales…food was easy.  Seems like California harbored 20 percent of the 50,000 grizzlies that roamed the continent long ago.  Its a shame to waste all the protected spaces of Californias’ Federal and State Parks and Forests.

In addition, it might give pause to the growing population of California.  When I was growing up here, California had an already bulging population of about 12 million.  Now its pushing 37 million, too many people for the space.  Many of these newcomers are easterners and mid-westerners, looking for climate change, in denial of the natural dryness of the west.  I watched California grow in the 80’s and 90’s, developers building out-of-place Cape Cod style McMansions, tearing down ancient oaks to put in home vineyards with private labels for Christmas gifts, lawns and golf courses erected where there should be Manzanitas.  I suggest the only thing that might put a stop to all this madness is the great, top of the food chain predator–the California Golden Bear.

Now, in all seriousness, Californians have the room for a few bears.  Biologist Carlos Carroll maintains that the Siskiyou Mountains could maintain around 300 Grizzlies.  I’ve been to these remote mountains on the Oregon Border.  They would make nice habitat.  I’m thinking so would Yosemite, and Tahoe for that matter.  Wolves in California might be just too big a jump, but Grizzlies are actually easier to live with, tend to be solitary, populate slowly and are omnivorous.

I like having Grizzlies in my valley in Wyoming.  They make me aware.  They make me remember that life is wild and that I too am a child of the wild.  We humans tend to eliminate everything that threatens us.  But really, we can never fully eliminate all threats.  In trying to cheat death, we only cheat ourselves of our natural woolly wildness and loose touch with an important part of our soul.

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