The History of Grizzlies in California
Grizzly bears are relatively new to California, in evolutionary time, having only arrived several thousand years ago. Yet once they made it here, grizzlies thrived, roaming throughout the state, from the redwood forests to the edge of the Mojave Desert, and from the High Sierra to the Los Angeles Basin.
Native peoples lived with grizzlies for millennia, developing rich and complex relationships with them. For Indigenous Californians, grizzlies were friends, neighbors, resources, healers, and kin. Later European settlers recorded detailed accounts of their experiences with California’s legendary “golden” or “chaparral” bears. By the early 1800s, California is estimated to have contained as many as 10,000 grizzly bears, or one grizzly for every eleven people living here at that time.
After the Gold Rush of 1849, California’s grizzly population plummeted, owing to a frenzy of unregulated hunting, trapping, and poisoning. A few bears held on in the Sierra Nevada and Southern California mountains into the 1910s. The last credible sighting of a California grizzly occurred near Sequoia National Park in 1924
For more than a century, scholars and storytellers have treated the epic saga of grizzlies in California as either a frontier legend or a cautionary tale. Now is the time to imagine a new future
Now is the time to bring the bear back.