THERE AREN’T ANY WILD GRIZZLY BEARS IN CALIFORNIA. This wasn’t always the case: before western settlers arrived in the state, they were everywhere. They were so ubiquitous that to this day they’re featured on the state flag. But settlers effectively exterminated all of the wild bears within state borders, to the point of local extinction.
Now, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is considering reintroducing them to the state.
The Center for Biological Diversity is pushing for the reintroduction of the bears, saying that the presence of the apex predators would be beneficial to parks in California’s Sierra Nevadas. Apex predators do provide some balance to ecosystems, but there are others that are worried about bringing back aggressive, giant bears to our nation’s most populated state.
Unlike black bears, which are plentiful in California, grizzlies are more aggressive. While black bears evolved in forested areas, meaning they could climb up trees when in a fight-or-flight scenario, grizzlies evolved in open areas, meaning they tended to prefer the “fight” option. In densely populated areas, this could mean more bear attacks.
The problem is that grizzlies would likely not stay in the parks. They used to roam coastal valleys, and often beaches, where there are literally millions of humans living these days.
But the US Fish and Wildlife Service is considering removing grizzly bears from the protected species list in Yellowstone, where a large portion of the continental US’s grizzly population lives, and that has wildlife advocates calling for the reintroduction of the predator across the western United States.
Decisions haven’t been made yet, and the process is under review. But the project highlights one of the difficulties of ecological policy: balancing public safety with what’s good for the local environment.
In the meantime, Californians will continue to see the well-known black bears that often raid their trash cans and roam their neighborhoods. The black bears are less dangerous. But black bears aren’t on the flag.