Despite California having a mighty grizzly on its state flag, the huge bears haven’t been lumbering around there for about a century, and it’s unlikely the Golden State will ask Wyoming for reintroducing grizzlies there anytime soon.
Wolves recently returned to California on their own, moving south from Oregon, but there is almost no chance that grizzlies will do the same.
And neither are there any current plans to reintroduce grizzlies there, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Spokesman Peter Tira told Cowboy State Daily.
The idea gets floated from time to time, but there haven’t been any moves toward transplanting grizzlies into California from Wyoming or any other states, he said.
CDFW is already busy with other predator species, including mountain lions, a large population of black bears and now wolves, he said. Moreover, potential conflicts with California’s large human population might mean grizzly reintroduction just isn’t feasible.
Truly Great Bears
Grizzlies once thrived in California, bear conservation advocate and retired federal ecologist Chuck Neal of Cody told Cowboy State Daily.
California at one time probably had the largest population of grizzlies in the Lower 48, up to 10,000 bears, Neal said.
What’s more, California grizzlies were absolutely huge.
Biologist think they might have been closely related to Alaska’s Kodiak bears. Male California grizzlies could have easily topped 1,000 pounds. That compares to 700 pounds being the top end for the biggest male grizzlies in Wyoming and the rest of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
It's thought that grizzlies essentially had disappeared from California by 1922. There was a reported sighting of a lone grizzly there in 1924, and none have been reported since.
Just Not Enough Food Left
If grizzlies ever did return to California, they could never be as many, or a huge, as they once were, Neal said. The massive amount of food resources needed to generate such an impressive population of gigantic bears as in that state’s history simply no longer exists.
California grizzlies “were feasting in the great Central Valley wetlands — now 95% gone ¬¬— the vast California oak groves — now severely degraded — and the huge salmon runs extending south all the way to the San Diego area — now essentially gone,” he said.
“They were congregating in large numbers to feast on maritime mammals washed ashore on the extensive coastline, such as whales, sea lions, seals, etc. (that are) now no longer available to any would-be concentration of bears,” he added.
Reintroduction Just Not Realistic
Neal is an avid advocate for contiguous, inter-connected populations of grizzly bears. Such as the long-awaited intermixing of the Greater Yellowstone population with Montana’s Northern Continental Divide grizzlies.
He also thinks that the return of grizzlies to the remote central Idaho wilderness could protect the Greater Yellowstone grizzlies from genetic isolation.
However, like CDFW officials, Neal doesn’t think there’s much hope for grizzly reintroduction in California.
“Realistically, I do not see any possibility of a viable self-sustaining grizzly population over time in the state under present conditions, with about 40 million people,” he said.
“I also do not see grizzlies reaching California on their own under present conditions. There must be connectivity between sub-populations for them to remain viable over time and there are no sub-populations anywhere near California,” Neal added.
Reintroduced California grizzlies would probably be mighty lonely, he said.
“If they were brought to that state, they would simply be an island relic population with the need for artificial augmentation at intervals to maintain their genetic health,” Neal said.
Still A Concern For Ranchers
Environmentalist groups occasionally lobby to have grizzlies reintroduced to California, Tira said.
That worries ranchers, Kirk Wilbur, vice president of government affairs for the California Cattleman’s Association, told Cowboy State Daily.
California ranchers are already displeased with wolves coming back, so grizzlies would just make things worse, from their perspective, he said.
“It seems like every few years, there’s a petition to reintroduce grizzlies to California. Folks always cite the fact that there’s one of them on our flag,” Wilbur said. “It certainly is something we’re aware of and something we’re watching and that we’re concerned about.”
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.