July 15, 2014

Should grizzly bears return to the California Sierras?

By Damien M. Schiff Senior Attorney
A rag-time bear (public domain)
A rag-time bear (public domain)

So thinks the Center for Biological Diversity, which recently petitioned the United States Fish & Wildlife Service to establish experimental populations in the state.  An editorial in this weekend’s Sacramento Bee takes a cautious approach to the proposal, the writer concerned (I would say reasonably) about the risk of injury or death to human beings from bear attacks.

The editorial quotes a CBD rep to the effect that Californians shouldn’t be concerned about bear reintroduction because: “It’s on your flag. It’s on the highway signs. The name is all over the place. It’s really such a part of the state’s history and heritage.  And California is a pretty wildlife-friendly place … a place where people can get behind this.”

This strikes me as laughable.  Because Californians are familiar with images of bears we should therefore have no problem with actual 2,000 lb big-toothed hungry mammals wandering around our hiking paths?

But it gets even better.  The editorial also quotes Dave Mattson, a bear “ecologist” now at Yale (how many grizzlies are in New Haven?), who argues that grizzlies are not especially vicious, except when you get between a grizzly mother and its cubs.  But the editorial then explains that “[m]any of the most grisly grizzly attacks were perpetrated by mother bears with cubs in attendance.”  So, small comfort there.

Yet Mr. Mattson insists:  “If we can find place of compassion for the grizzly, we benefit, because that is emblematic of a kind of change in our species.”  A nice sentiment.  If, however, the bears are re-introduced to California, I wonder whether they will reciprocate that compassion towards us?  (Perhaps if we can get the bears to like rag-time.)

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