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Looking for bear: A grizzly task

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
July 3, 2003

 

"Wilderness is not any particular species or habitat type, but a higher class of life form with it's own nobility derived from it's complete independence of human beings." — David Ehrenfeld

Preparing for a trip to Europe and Australia I decided my vintage Desert Storm hot weather "Boony" hat needed a California flag to balance the peace sign sewn to the front. This way people would see I come in peace, and leave as a goodwill ambassador for the Republic of California.

Call it Feng Shui for haberdashery, hippy crap, of the usual Bobness, I figured, to prevent anyone accusing me of being a capitalist imperial dog I could accessorize to put such fears to rest. Hence the patch.

There was only one problem. I couldn't find a California bear patch anywhere. Who would of thought you just can't pop out to the store for a wearable image of the state flag? I called the Boy Scout supply place in Oceanside, no go, Environgentle in Encinitas, trophy stores, sporting good stores, flag stores, and the Downtown Encinitas Main Street Association. No luck. Can't turn your head in any direction without seeing the stars and stripes, but not a California flag. Ominous no?

Ready to give up, a friend suggested I try the Oceanside Visitor Bureau. Bingo, they had patches. "Now these are the replicas of the state flag right? The one with the Grizzly Bear and the words California Republic, right? Cool." With a day to spare the patch makes it to the hat. All is now right with my world. That is except for American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, corporate exploitation of the environment, crashing fish stocks, and a lack of independent media.

The world might be going to hell in a handbag, but at least I will be dressed, gonzo style.

Retelling this story to friends over breakfast at Mozy's, we agreed that it seemed fitting the California flag is rare as the Grizzly Bear, the once plentiful creature from which it draws symbolic imagery. And there lies yet more proof of how humans seem oblivious to their actions.

It is estimated the peak population of ursus arctos californicus measured over 10,000, with animals ranging over most of the state and Mexico. Now extinct, the last California Grizzly was killed in August 1922. And if that isn't enough, no grizzlies survive in States bordering California. It's as if proximity to the Golden State is fatal to animals regardless of their size or iconic importance. Adding to the irony of having the ghost of an extinct animal haunting the state flag, the Grizzly bear wasn't adopted as the official state animal until June 1953, a mere 34 years after the demise of the subspecies.

What caused ursus a. californicus to become extinct?

The obvious answer is grizzlies were pushed out by western settlements, as the west was won. More to the point, the bears were hunted to extinction as a way removing a competing predator, protecting livestock, and feeding the burgeoning population of the San Francisco region. One individual stands out among the bloodthirsty pioneers of early California. Most of us have heard of him, although they know only half of his story.

Historians credit John C. Adams as the largest single factor in the extinction of the California grizzly bear. Known as Grizzly Adams, John C was a professional hunter renowned for his natural ability to tame and train orphaned cubs, always keeping a few trained bears as pets. These pets would accompany him on bear hunting expeditions, and were used to help find other bears for restaurant patrons. Somehow the Grizzly Adams television show of the 1970's failed to mention the bear carnage and the role this very real man played in the eradication of the Grizzly.

If there are lessons to be learned from my attempts to locate a bear revolt flag it's that the natural heritage of California should not be taken for granted. And no amount of revisionist history can repair the ecological devastation caused by the reckless arrogance of mankind. Perhaps it is only fitting the official iconic image of California is an extinct omnivore lost to the predation of greedy men with guns.

Ursus arctos californicas may be gone, but other species need not join the California grizzly in oblivion. Who knows, perhaps this is why the proud and solitary omnivore was chosen to represent the state long after it's demise. Maybe, just maybe, previous generations wanted the ghost bear to always serve as a reminder of how much we have to loose.

 
 
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