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California Senate Declares ‘Year of the California Grizzly Bear’

by Center for Biological Diversity
2024 Marks Centennial of Last Sighting of State’s Official Animal
SACRAMENTO, Calif., April 8, 2024 — The California State Senate today passed a resolution to officially declare 2024 the “Year of the California Grizzly Bear” to mark the 100th anniversary of the extirpation of California’s official state animal. The last reliable sighting of a wild grizzly bear in California was in the spring of 1924 in Sequoia National Park.

The Senate passed the resolution on an 38-0 vote.

“The extirpation of the grizzly bear from California a century ago is the most significant species loss in the state’s history,” said State Sen. John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), author of the resolution. “The grizzly was ecologically and culturally significant to California, and today, 100 years since its disappearance, it remains an important icon for the state, evident by its place on our state flag and seal. This year more than ever, we should reflect upon its loss and do everything we can to ensure no other native species goes extinct under our watch.”

Senate Resolution 75 is focused on the historic and current importance of grizzly bears to the ecosystems and people of California. The resolution is sponsored by the California Grizzly Alliance, a coalition of researchers, tribal leaders, wildlife advocates, land managers and community members exploring the feasibility of restoring grizzly bears to the state.

The resolution also has support from California Native American Tribes across the state, including the Yurok Tribe, Tule River Tribe, and Tejon Tribe. More than three dozen conservation groups, land trusts, museums, and companies, including Patagonia and the California Academy of Sciences, supported the resolution.

While the resolution does not call for reintroduction of the bear to California, it raises public awareness of the cost of losing grizzly bears and other elements of California’s unique biodiversity. S.R. 75 encourages Californians to observe this year by promoting the conservation and restoration of California’s wildlife with activities, events and educational programs. The resolution declares that it is the state’s policy to continue supporting California’s efforts to protect and restore native species and habitats.

“The Yurok Tribe strongly supports Sen. Laird’s resolution recognizing the California grizzly,” said Yurok Chairman Joseph L. James. “We hope the state’s landscape will one day recover enough to support this culturally and ecologically invaluable species. We know from our reintroduction of the California condor that it will take decades of hard work and collaboration.”

California grizzly bears coexisted with the ancestors of contemporary California Native American Tribes for thousands of years, and remain an honored, vital, and revered relative for many Tribes and cultures.

“On this year's 100th anniversary of the last credible sighting of a grizzly bear in California, I think it’s important for people to understand that it’s not just a picture on a flag, it’s not just an animal that was here,” said Tejon Tribe Chairman Octavio Escobedo. “It was something that was revered culturally by people up and down the state. It was an integral piece of the biodiversity of regions that they populated.”

Recent research into the genetics, diet and habitat use of California grizzlies has increased scientists’ understanding of the grizzly’s role in the state’s ecosystems.

“Over the past decade, our understanding of California grizzlies has completely changed,” said Peter Alagona, professor of environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of several studies on the California grizzly. “The California grizzly was not the beast of legend. It was a typical brown bear: average size, mostly vegetarian and genetically indistinguishable from grizzlies living today in Montana and Wyoming. There is no biological reason why we couldn’t bring them back.”

An estimated 10,000 grizzly bears inhabited California at the time of European settlement, one-fifth of the total 50,000 grizzlies estimated in the lower 48 states. Following widespread persecution, there are only about 2,000 bears left in the lower 48 today, and none in California.

“It’s sobering to realize that California lost its official animal simply because people killed off all our grizzlies,” said Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity. “If we want these bears to recover in the lower 48 states, we need to seriously consider bringing grizzlies back to areas where there’s still good habitat. I truly believe grizzly bears can and should have a future in California.”

Separately, the California Fish and Game Commission is scheduled to commemorate the grizzly centennial with presentations and discussions on the past and potential future of grizzly bears in California at its April 18 meeting.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
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