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Rare fatal black bear attack & efforts to bring the more aggressive grizzly back to California
grizzly bear
Monarch — part of the California Academy of Sciences collection in San Francisco—was one of the last Ursus arctos californicus, a now-extinct grizzly bear subspecies. His role in California history began as an 1889 publicity stunt, when he was captured in Ventura County by order of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Named for a Hearst newspaper tagline (“Monarch of the Dailies”), the 1,100-pound bear spent his remaining 22 years in captivity on display while the remaining California grizzlies were being hunted to extinction.

It’s not exactly Jurassic Park, but there is a movement to-reintroduce the grizzly bear to California.

The United States Fish & Wildfire Service was officially petitioned to do just that in 2014 and promptly rejected it.

That led to the formation of the California Grizzly Research Network in 2016.

It’s a scholarly endeavor. As such, they don’t advocate policy or management actions.

What they are doing is compiling research that could be used by decision makers who are asked to support an effort to re-introduce grizzly bears to the Golden State.

They expect to wrap up research sometime in 2025.

As such, it would come 100 years after what was believed to be the last grizzly bear in the wild was killed near Sequoia National Park.

That said, the California Grizzly Alliance is conducting research with the expressed purpose of abdicating their re-introduction to California.

Their report is due out in the fall of this year.

What makes this somewhat of a relevant topic today is news out of Sierra County.

Sierra County, with 3,236 residents, is the second least populated among California’s 58 counties. It is north of Lake Tahoe and borders Nevada County on the south and the State of Nevada on the east.

There was a 71-year-old woman found dead in her Downieville home last November.

Deputies doing a welfare check noted there was evidence a bear had been inside and had been feeding on the woman’s remains.

The assumption was the woman had died before the bear entered the home and started feeding on her body.

It was a reasonable assumption, given there has never been a confirmed death of a human by a black bear in California.

The assumption was wrong.

An autopsy report released last month determined the cause of death was by being either bitten or swiped on the neck by a bear.

Although the California Grizzly Bear — a distinct subspecies of brown bears — hasn’t been around for a century, the image of one graces the state flag.

In prehistoric times, experts estimated there were 100,000 grizzly bears in California

There were an estimated 10,000 grizzly bears in California in 1497 when Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo of Spain was the first European known to explore the area we know as California today.

By the start of the Gold Rush in 1849, grizzly bear numbers were believed to have been about 2,000 in California.

Brown bears —which are grizzlies — are not black bears.

Black bears get to be 4 to 6 feet long and weigh between 130 and 400 pounds.

Brown bears get as big as 8 feet and weight between 400 and 600 pounds.

Black bears have been clocked at 35 mph.

Brown bears have been clocked at 40 mph.

Both have sharp incisor teeth while the upper jaw of the brown bear includes two fangs.

Black bears have a bite force of 800 pounds per square inch.

Brown bears have a bite force of 1,160 pounds per square inch.

Black bears have a swipe force of 560 pounds.

Brown bears have a swipe force of 7,000 pounds.

California Grizzly bears were a subspecies different than other brown bears.

The California Grizzly had larger skulls and the males at maturity typically weight just under 1,000 pounds or roughly 400 more pounds than other brown bears.

The reason was simple.

California’s Mediterranean weather didn’t require hibernation.

They also could be found everywhere from the Central Valley to the coast and from the mountains to the Mojave Desert.

Restoring grizzly bears to California is problematic at best and reckless at worst.

To replicate the subspecies as they once existed in California, grizzlies would need to be re-introduced to temperate areas of the state.

That would mean the Coastal Mountains, unless the advocates for re-introduction want to create a Jurassic Park like setting complete with electrified fences in the Central Valley or the San Gabriel Mountains ringing the Los Angeles Basin.

The likely Coastal area with minimum urban interface would be south of Pacheco Pass and north of Santa Barbara.

It is true that human fatalities from bear attacks are low.

There were six fatal grizzly bear attacks between 2020 and 2022 in the United States — most in Alaska — and two confirmed black bear mailings.

Introducing grizzlies back to California — even if it was in remote areas of the Sierra such as around Mt. Whitney as some have suggested — is problematic.

That’s because most people can be careless at best or idiots at worse.

The temperaments of brown and black bears are different.

A black bear will flee or not attack in most situations of interacting with humans.

But startle them or approach their young, and they will attack.

Grizzly bears are wired to attack.

But that doesn’t make the idea of restoring grizzlies to California reckless

What does is the reality that much of the ecological systems have been altered significantly since the subspecies’ demise.

Being on top of the food chain in the wild not to mention being massive foraging machines would send shockwaves through natural habitats as they exist today.

And given the range grizzlies have, it would be no small deal.

It is almost as stupid of an idea of reintroducing dinosaurs, Jurassic-style.

Besides to simply “restore” grizzlies to the Sierra would not be true to the subspecies.

Evidence is clear based on their unique size California Grizzly Bears, for the most part, did not hibernate.

That means they would need to be reintroduced to the mountains along the coast where the majority of California’s 39.5 million residents live.

In April, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service in conjunction with the National Park Service unveiled plans to reintroduce grizzlies to the Northern Cascades by relocating up to 70 grizzly bears from British Columbia and the Rocky Mountains.

Aside from simply reintroducing the species in general to California, a similar plan to do so here would not replicate the subspecies that went extinct.


This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at