Not lions, tigers and bears, but wolves, wolverines and grizzly bears appear to be making a comeback in California. In fact, there are some folks who think that they’ve been here all along. Recently there has been considerable publicity about a solitary wolf wearing a radio collar who has wandered from Oregon into the wilds of northern California. Dubbed “Journey” by the media, the young male wolf was labeled OR7 by Oregon wildlife officials and has both environmentalists and livestock raisers pretty excited. While the “last” California wolf was trapped in Lassen County in 1924, the California Wolf Center notes that the U.S. Forest Service estimated that there were some 50 wolves in California as recently as 1937.

There appears to be a pretty sizeable group of well-educated people who believe that wolves were never extinct in California. The Backcountry Resource Center is a non-profit organization headed by Paul Pritchins Jr., author of four books on the Sierra Mountains. The manager in charge of environmental protection for the California Energy Commission, Pritchins is no babe in the woods. On the Backcountry Resource Center website, he describes seeing what he believes to be an adult wolf in the High Sierras in 2007. Additional credible witnesses report seeing seven separate wolf sightings in the area between 2000 and 2008. Prior to the recent arrival of Journey in California, government experts discounted the wolf sightings as people mistaking coyotes for wolves or considered them wolf-dog hybrids. Personally, I find the reported wolf sightings pretty credible.

Until a few years ago, the ivory-billed woodpecker was thought to be extinct. Then some darned fools went and found some in the swamps of Arkansas, of all places. A decade ago, all the experts agreed that the wolverine was extinct in California. That is until a graduate research student setting trail cameras got pictures of one in the Lake Tahoe region. Since then there have been numerous photos of wolverines in California. I guess those darned wolverines didn’t read that they were extinct!

Untold thousands of school kids visit the California Academy of Science in San Francisco and see the extinct stuffed California grizzly on display. I always thought it was kind of sad that the great bear that adorns our flag was no more. Wouldn’t it be magnificent if the California grizzly were still with us? I’ll let you in on a little secret, they may still be with us. No jive!

David J. is a licensed bear guide who has hunted bear in California for almost 50 years. You can tell a guy is a real bear hunter when he begins to roll up his sleeves and pant cuffs to show you his scars, or when he takes out his glass eye. David knows bears like Tiger Woods knows golf.

A couple of years ago he was backpacking in a really remote part of California, when he was charged by a grizzly and had to kill it in self defense. A novice hiker might mistake a large black bear for a grizzly, but not this guy. When I asked him what he did with the grizzly he’d killed, he replied that he left it right where it fell, stating “There was no way I was going to prison for killing the last California grizzly”.

A further confirmation of the grizzlies-in-California theory was a conversation I had with a biologist employed by the California State Parks. In the course of our conversation, I asked what his educational background was and he mentioned that he got his Masters degree studying urban bears in California. When I ran my California grizzly theory past him, the bear biologist told me that every year there are some huge bears taken in California. Because grizzly bears are officially extinct, these huge bears are routinely catalogued as black bears. The fellow winked and said that the “state never makes mistakes”.

Officially the California grizzly has been extinct since 1922. Fortunately, the California grizzlies still out there don’t know they’re extinct. Is it possible there are still some wild grizzlies in some really remote corner of California? I’m convinced there are. One day soon, you might just read about the official re-discovery of the fabled California grizzly bear. Just remember, you read it here first.

We have much to be grateful for in California, a great climate, fertile soil, abundant water and a wonderful array of wildlife. We should thank the good Lord for having blessed us so abundantly. We should also say thanks to our Fish and Game department and the dedicated employees who work so hard to steward these magnificent wild gifts. They are a part of our heritage and if we are careful, they can continue to be a part of our future. Hey! Get out there and enjoy that wonderful wildlife heritage of ours.

Image from Eric Kilby on the flickr Creative Commons

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One thought on “Is “Extinct” Wildlife Returning to California?

  1. If David J. truly did shoot a Grizzly Bear recently in California, the chances of it being the last California Grizzly Bear are very remote. There would have to be a breeding population somewhere, since the California Grizzly Bear has been officially extinct since 1922. The 1922 date is incorrect as documented in William Secrest’s book: California’s Day of the Grizzly, but not too far off.
    It would be great if the California Grizzly still existed. I don’t understand why a Biologist employed by the state of California would not publish data if the great bear still existed.
    Nice article, the wolverine is still with us in California, as well as the Red Fox, once thought to be extinct. I would really like to see proof of the California Grizzly and would welcome someone to show one piece of proof. I’m curious as to what portion of the state David J. was in when he reportedly shot a Grizzly, since this would help determine which of the 6 species of California Grizzlies the could have been.

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