Planning the Restoration of the Grizzly (aka Golden Bear) to California
Michael J. Vandeman
February 9, 1997
We are in the midst of a worldwide extinction crisis. According to the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources), one fourth of all of the world's animals are threatened with extinction. Since the Pilgrims arrived in North America, some 500 species have become extinct here. Between 1849 and 1922, the grizzly was reduced in California by hunting from perhaps 10,000 to zero.
Let us ask a fundamental question: Do other species have a right to exist? The answer is obviously "Yes". Or more precisely, if we have a right to exist, then wildlife does also. But what follows from that is that we have to give them a place to live: habitat that is satisfactory to them. And since most species won't tolerate the presence of people, this means human-free, "pure" habitat. ("To almost everything except man, the smell of humanity is the most repulsive of all odors, the sight of man, the most terrifying of all sights" Krutch, p.445. "People have an impact on wildlife habitat and all that depends on it, no matter what the activity" Anderson, p.157.) This is nothing to feel bad about -- it is just biology. And it is a way for us to show respect for species that are different from us, but just as important.
But it is especially important for the grizzly, because it is dangerous to people and livestock. There have been many proposals to restore the grizzly to California, but none of them have faced the root problem: We humans think we "own" every square inch of the Earth! This is, of course, absurd. But are we big enough (generous enough) to share the Earth with other species? The grizzly is the ultimate test, because it needs habitat that is off-limits to people and livestock. Impossible? Such sanctuaries have already been created, e.g. for the California condor. Whenever we have a great enough need, for example when building a new freeway, we simply apply eminent domain to acquire the necessary land. Preserving biodiversity is such a need. ("It is not a sentimental but a grimly literal fact that unless we share this terrestrial globe with creatures other than ourselves, we shall not be able to live on it for long" Krutch, p.448.)
Why bring back the grizzly?
The Golden Bear is a member of our California family. (Aunt Selma may have had a sharp tongue, but what would the family be without her? Which of your family members would you be willing to sacrifice? Such callousness is reserved for our major employers.) It was here before us, and it belongs here as much as we do, if not more. It was an integral part of its ecosystem. Who are we to decide which species should be sacrificed?
It is embarrassing that our State Animal, depicted on our state flag, not only doesn't exist, but was deliberately exterminated. It didn't even get to participate in our upcoming sesquicentennial (150th anniversary of statehood), in the year 2000.
It is embarrassing that the mascot of the University of California (Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses) was allowed to be extinguished. Storer and Tevis didn't mention a single protest!
Its presence, and the process of its restoration, would be very educational. We desperately need to increase awareness of the biodiversity crisis, if we are to arrest it. A public controversy like this one would bring this issue right to center stage, where it belongs.
The grizzly was mostly vegetarian, eating grasses, roots, fruits, small animals, and carrion. "They concentrate where tubers are plentiful, humans few, and cover is available" Grumbine, p.35. They are wide-ranging animals, and need up to 100 square miles (for males) per animal.
A viable (long-surviving) population is, theoretically, upwards of 2000 animals. But providing travel corridors connecting its habitat with that of the other grizzly populations might give it a higher "effective population", and is also important for preventing inbreeding and for giving it maximal genetic resources for coping with global warming and other stresses. Of course, we should start with a much smaller number -- perhaps a dozen animals, donated by zoos and the nearest existing grizzly populations. Although the California genepool is gone, it disappeared so recently, and was so recently connected to the other populations, that they are probably genetically close.
So far, the suggested sites are the King Range, Headwaters Forest, and the Santa Lucia Range between Big Sur and Morro Bay. Perhaps they could be connected via corridors to the Sierra foothills, and to Washington and Idaho via Oregon. Maybe the counties would want to compete for that honor.... Of course, the preserves should be designed to protect other endangered species as well, such as the marbled murrelet.
Roads are a major problem for grizzlies. They avoid roads, and of course roads bring people into contact with the bears. All roads should be removed from their habitat. Where it is necessary for a road or rail line to cross their habitat or travel corridor, ideally, they should tunnel under it. Wildlife underpasses are less effective for some species, if they don't feel safe in them, or if predators learn to set ambush there.
Some proposals recommend using the grizzlies to generate tourist dollars. This would be counterproductive, subjecting the bears to people and roads. They need to be left alone, and indemnifying visitors is expensive and harmful to the bears. For the same reason, we should not subject the bears to radio collars or other tampering by biologists. Would you put up with that?
Implications for the Planning Profession.
Wildlife cannot protect themselves from us, and are much more dependent on specific habitat and conditions than we are. Therefore, planning for wildlife should precede, and take priority over, all other planning. They cannot be protected, if they are an afterthought.
We need to plan much farther ahead. This is at least a 25-year project. Native Americans gave "seven generations" as their horizon. We could do worse.
We should aim high. Why settle for less, unless we have to? If we want to save all existing species, let's say so openly, and work toward it -- be proactive, rather than passive; not "give up on" any area. "Planning should be mindful of global priorities, but should never declare any region a sacrifice zone, even if it is naturally low in species richness or has been degraded by human activities" Noss & Cooperrider, p.90. "Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little" Edmund Burke.
Increase the role of eminent domain; we have swung too far toward a "private property" ethos. (How can you "own" living organisms, who have minds of their own?)
"Grandly they blend with their native mountains" John Muir.
Anderson, S.H., "Recreational Disturbance and Wildlife Populations", in Knight, R.L. and K.J. Gutzwiller, Wildlife and Recreationists. Covelo, CA: Island Press, 1995.
Grumbine, R.E., Ghost Bears. Covelo, CA: Island Press, 1992.
Krutch, J.W., "Conservation is not enough", in The World of Animals. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1961.
Noss, R.F. and A.Y. Cooperrider, Saving Nature's Legacy. Covelo, CA: Island Press, 1994.
Storer, T.I and L.P. Tevis, California Grizzly. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1955.