It’s an iconic part of California’s history which has been commemorated in many ways, on the state’s flag, and through mascots for major universities like UCLA and UC Berkeley.
Now, a project led by a UC Santa Barbara researcher is underway to help us learn more about the extinct California Grizzly bear.
Most people don’t know much about the official state animal of California. Surveys show that three quarters of the state’s residents don’t even know if they exist anymore. The last sighting of a grizzly in California was in the 1920’s.
Some environmental groups have proposed re-introducing grizzly bears to California, but researchers realized we don’t know much about them. The last real study of the state’s grizzlies was done back in the 1950’s. So, last year Dr. Peter Alagona an environmental researcher at U-C Santa Barbara and some other researchers formed the California Grizzly Study Group. The idea is to provide impartial information on everything from the biology, to the science and history of the bears.
Alagona says with hunting, and poisoning of the bears in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the grizzlies were driven to extinction. The grizzly population in other parts of the U.S. was at risk as well, but following the start of conservation efforts in the 1970’s, has bounced back.
Alagona spent part of this summer in Montana, where he tried to learn more about the behavior of grizzlies from people who live near them. He says people who live in grizzly country peacefully co-exist with them, even though they get a bad rap in modern culture. Alagona says they go out of their way to avoid humans.
The UCSB researcher says the goal is to provide information which can be useful for environmentalists, and the public at large. It could help take away some of the mystique of the majestic creatures whose images are all around us, even if they no longer exist in California.