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The Land of the Bears
Californians are surrounded by bears. Most of these creatures are not the coy, mischievous black bears that prowl Yosemite campgrounds after dark, raiding ice chests and eating bologna sandwiches out of "wildlife resistant" trash bins. No, these are massive, fearless, humpbacked, barrel-chested, dagger-clawed grizzly bears-and they are everywhere. They lurk behind picnic tables in city parks, patrol the entrances to government buildings, gnash their teeth next to bus stops, and splash in fountains alongside children. Sometimes they wear plastic pink leis and funny hats. During an hour's walk on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, an intrepid naturalist can view at least twenty-seven resident grizzly bears in an area of just three square miles. Scientists have not attempted a current census, but the state's grizzlies must number in the hundreds of thousands. California truly is the land of the bears.1
Of course, none of these animals are alive. They are all only images and monuments. In the mid-nineteenth century, California was home to as many as ten thousand living, breathing grizzly bears-a greater population density than in present-day Alaska, and around a fifth of all the grizzlies in the United States at the time. Zoologists believe that the California population constituted a unique subspecies: the California grizzly, or "chaparral bear," a label that referred to its affinity for the region's scrubby foothills and brush-covered mountains. The chaparral bear's numbers seem to have peaked around the time of the gold rush, in 1849, then plummeted during the second half of the nineteenth century. The last captive California grizzly died in 1911, and any remaining wild individuals probably perished before 1930.
By the time it went extinct, the California grizzly had become an indelible icon. It appeared on the state flag and seal. Artists had immortalized it in paintings and murals. The University of California had adopted it as a mascot. And hundreds of monuments commemorated its role in the state's Indian, Spanish, Mexican, and early American histories (see figure 2). Today the grizzly's image appears on pendants and billboards and is inscribed on T-shirts and logos, carved in stone, and cast in bronze. These representations are all that remain of the chaparral bear. Most people hardly notice them. Yet references to the California grizzly-a once-celebrated totem now vanquished, extinct, and largely forgotten-remain a ubiquitous presence in the lives of millions.
[Figures 2a and 2b around here]
The California grizzly went extinct long before conservationists coined the term endangered species. Its story can serve only as a prelude to the debates that followed and that are the focus of subsequent chapters in this book. Yet the epic history of the grizzly bear in California, in addition to offering a grand tale of the American West, illustrates a crucial point for understanding more recent endangered species controversies. Although debates about wildlife extinction and conservation have changed much over the years, one thing remains the same: they have always been about the politics of place. In California there is no better species to illustrate this essential insight than the one most closely associated with the state's indigenous history, colonial encounters, frontier origins, early development, political symbolism, and contemporary cultural landscape.
Monarch-an Ursine Encounter
In the spring of 1889, the reporter Allan Kelly left the cosmopolitan comforts of his San Francisco home bound for the rugged mountains of Ventura County in a still-remote corner of Southern California. He worked for the San Francisco Examiner, and his boss, William Randolph Hearst, had sent him on an extraordinary assignment. Kelly's goal was to capture and return with a live California grizzly bear. Doing so would prove the animals still existed. It would also enable Kelly's ambitious employer to generate publicity for his newspapers by presenting the citizens of San Francisco with a marvelous gift.
Kelly was a quick-witted observer and eloquent author. He loved the mountains, penned self-effacing accounts of his outdoor misadventures, and wrote about people and animals with humor, precision, and respect. According to Kelly, Hearst had selected him for the job because although the reporter had no experience as a trapper, he was "the only man on the paper who was supposed to know anything about bears."2 Hearst sent Kelly on the expedition only after having tried and failed to purchase a captive grizzly, for which he would have fabricated a harrowing tale of pursuit and capture. As Kelly would discover on the publication of his own heavily edited grizzly story, Hearst made a habit of encouraging his employees not to allow the facts to constrain their imagination.
Kelly set out for the little farming town of Santa Paula, where he would begin his adventure, in May. He spent a month in the area learning to build bear traps from stout oak beams, to ignore the locals' eccentric advice, and to distinguish real paw prints from the fake ones left by his untrustworthy advisers. By June he was ready to proceed, and he moved to a camp at seventy-five hundred feet on the forested slopes of Mount Piños some forty miles to the north. Three grizzlies visited Kelly and his assistants during their time on the mountain, but none of the bears took the crew's bait or wandered into the traps. In July Kelly's editor at the Examiner decided that the adventure had gone on long enough and ordered his reporter back to San Francisco. Kelly pleaded for more time, but the editor responded by revoking his funding and suspending his salary. With no assistants and no support, the unemployed journalist was on his own.
Having failed on Mount Piños, Kelly decided to move his camp, his burro, and his few remaining possessions east to the Tehachapi Mountains near Antelope Valley, where he hoped to find a bear that the locals called Old Pinto. To Kelly's surprise, tracking Old Pinto proved relatively easy. The bear strutted about the area as if he owned it, leaving tracks in the soil and scratches on the trees wherever he went. But capturing Old Pinto, who was wary enough to avoid the temptations of honey-and-mutton-baited traps, was another matter. Kelly was impressed with the bear's intelligence and instincts. He found himself surprised by the serenity of the forest and the reticence of the animals that lived there, and he grew ambivalent about what he increasingly viewed as his nefarious objective. "Many of my prejudices and all my storybook notions about the behavior of the carnivorae [sic] were discredited by experience," he wrote, "and I was forced to recognize the plain truth that the only mischievous animal, the only creature meditating and planning evil on that mountain ... [,] was a man with a gun."3
Word of Kelly's search soon spread, and mountain men for fifty miles in every direction set out their own traps in the hope of catching a suddenly valuable bear. In October Kelly got word that a syndicate of shepherds and trappers had captured a grizzly on Gleason Mountain, in what was then called the Sierra Madre and is now known as the San Gabriel Mountains, north of Los Angeles. Sure enough, when Kelly arrived at the site he found a massive grizzly in a stout cage. The group's watchman, avaquero named Mateo, unaware of the visitor's identity, told Kelly that he planned to sell the animal to a big-city newspaperman for an exorbitant price. He was, however, open to other offers. The two men haggled a bit before Kelly purchased the bear for a bargain price. Kelly later wrote that it was "the only evidence of business capacity to be found in my entire career."4 But now he was alone in the mountains, nearly broke after a five-month mostly self-funded expedition, the owner of an ill-tempered half-ton grizzly bear that he somehow needed to get to San Francisco, four hundred miles away, to deliver to an unscrupulous publisher who had recently fired him and who might not even still want the beast.
Fortunately for Kelly, Hearst was thrilled. Yes, he still wanted the grizzly; yes, he wanted to name it Monarch, after one of his newspapers; and yes, he wanted Kelly to return to San Francisco with the animal at once. Now came the hard part. Monarch was not exactly a docile creature. For his first week in captivity, the bear "raged like a lunatic." He "bit and tore at the logs, hurled his great bulk against the sides and tried to enlarge every chink that admitted light" into his box cage. Eventually the beast tired, allowing Kelly and his hired team to fit the bear with chains for the trip ahead. That process required several days, and it cost Monarch his canine teeth, which he splintered while trying to rip off his shackles. After the chains came the temporary gag, a thick rope lashed through the bear's mouth and strapped around his ears to form a bridle, which was attached to a collar made of heavy Norwegian iron. Once Monarch was fully restrained, his captors removed the gag and finished readying him for the long journey north.5
The trip took about two weeks. The first section, from the camp to the nearest wagon road, was the most difficult. Each evening Kelly's team would chain Monarch to a tree, and each morning they would load him up for the day's trip. This required roping the bear, binding him to "a rough skeleton sled," or "go-devil," then dragging the whole contraption, bear and all, down the mountain. It was not easy to find a team of horses that would submit to the task, and each morning Monarch fought back with "dogged persistency." He was an enormous and powerful animal, but in the end he was no match for four men on horses with chains and lassos. When they reached the road, the crew built a bigger cage, and Monarch spent the rest of the trip riding on wagons and trains. The bear had but one "tantrum" along the way, when a group of onlookers in the ramshackle depot of Mojave poked and prodded him with sharp sticks to try to make him stand. He had almost burst out of his cage when Kelly arrived to chase the gawkers away and pacify the bear with a sliced watermelon. After that, Monarch settled into the calm routine of a defeated but dignified captive.6
The journey left a lifelong impression on both man and animal. By the time they reached San Francisco, according to Kelly, Monarch would "allow me to handle his chain and would take food from my hand. ... Close acquaintance with the grizzly inspired me with genuine respect for his character and admiration for his indomitable courage." But the trip was tough on Monarch. According to the Examiner, the grueling voyage had left the great bear "travel-worn and thin. ... His broken teeth trouble him some and it will be some time before he will feel as well as he did before he was caught." The paper assured its readers, however, that Monarch was "brightening up, and when the abrasions of his skin, made by ropes and chains, are healed up and his hair grows again on the bare spots he will be more presentable."7
On November 10, around twenty thousand people gathered at Woodward's Garden-a long-shuttered zoo, museum, and theme park that was then in San Francisco's Mission District-to attend a reception celebrating Monarch's debut as the only California grizzly in captivity. It was a merry outing for most of the attendees. But for Kelly the day's festivities offered little cause for cheer. Looking back, he recalled that after Monarch's capture, the bear had "exhausted every means at his command to break out, and when convinced that he was beaten, he spent one whole day in grievous lamentation and then ceased his futile efforts. Monarch is a brave old fellow and he ought to be free in his native mountains. If he still regrets that he was captured I sympathize with him for I'm more than half sorry myself."8
Kelly never said exactly why he was sorry. But he knew that California's wildlife was declining rapidly and that zoos were miserable places for most animals. His experience with Monarch had challenged him and changed him, and it seems safe to say that he had decided that wild creatures, particularly large and intelligent animals such as grizzlies, belonged in wild places. This was not a common belief at the time, but Kelly would be far from the last Californian to reach that conclusion.
The Rise and Fall of the Chaparral Bear
Before the arrival of European explorers, settlers, and missionaries in the late eighteenth century, grizzlies roamed throughout most of what is now California. They lived on the seashores, in the valleys, in the foothills, and in the mountains all the way up to the alpine zone. They favored grasslands, wetlands, woodlands, and brushlands-especially chaparral-but they ranged widely throughout the region's diverse landscapes, from the Sierra Nevada and the Cascades to the Coast, Transverse, and Peninsular Ranges, into the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, and along coastal bluffs and prairies including the San Francisco Peninsula and the Los Angeles Basin (see map 2). The only part of California that grizzlies probably did not frequent was the eastern deserts. They did, however, wander all the way out to the desert fringe, especially during the sporadic years when the piñon trees produced their sumptuous crops of buttery pine nuts.9
Unlike their relatives farther north, California grizzlies lived in a region with year-round resource availability. They remained active day and night, consumed a wide variety of foods, and had no need to hibernate. Grizzlies scavenged the carcasses of beached marine mammals, grazed on perennial grasses and seeds, gathered berries, and foraged for fruits and nuts. They rooted around like pigs in search of roots and bulbs, and after the introduction of European hogs, the bears ate them too. At times and places of abundant food-such as along rivers during steelhead spawning seasons or in oak woodlands during acorn mast years-grizzlies congregated in large numbers. Such a varied and plentiful diet produced some enormous animals. Male California grizzlies could grow to more than fifteen hundred pounds. This equals the maximum size of the largest grizzlies alive today, Alaska's Kodiak bears, which achieve their exceptional girth by the rather different strategy of specializing on salmon and hibernating for much of the year.10
No one knows how many grizzlies lived in California before European contact. The great naturalist Joseph Grinnell, who served as the first director of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley and spearheaded California's first grassroots wildlife conservation campaign in the 1910s, calculated a pre-1830 population of 2,595 adult grizzlies. He based this number on historical records, assumptions about resource availability, and the size of grizzly ranges in other regions. He also noted that under favorable conditions, grizzlies were capable of rapid population growth.11 Yet Grinnell's numbers are only estimates. All we can say for sure is that grizzlies were probably always common in California, and much more so than their smaller cousins, the black bears, whose populations grizzlies appear to have limited through territorial aggression and competitive exclusion. Black bears are common throughout much of California today, but they probably only became so after the grizzlies' eradication.
Despite their robust size and large population, grizzlies were never the dominant land animal in California. For the first million years of the species's existence, the grizzly was just one member of a spectacular group of Pleistocene megafauna that included such formidable beasts as the saber-toothed tiger, the dire wolf, the giant ground sloth, and the woolly mammoth. Around thirteen thousand years ago, near the end of the last ice age and shortly after the arrival of the first human hunter-gatherers, many of these species began to decline. Some persisted for millennia in isolated areas, but within a few thousand years most had disappeared. Species with the largest body masses were the first to go, and they went extinct at a much greater rate than did the smaller ones. Grizzlies ranked well down the size hierarchy of the Pleistocene megafauna, but they were one of the largest terrestrial animal species to survive the subsequent extinctions. By ten thousand years ago, they were the second-most-dominant land animals in California, after humans.12
As late as the 1980s, many scholars of this period thought that California Indians did not have the capacity to challenge or control the grizzlies in their midst. This belief derived from scattered accounts by Spanish chroniclers who claimed that killing problem grizzlies proved their countrymen's benevolence toward the helpless natives. The Indians' supposed inability to control grizzlies was an example of their failure to civilize their country and thus contributed to a larger narrative of indigenous savagery and vulnerability that helped to justify colonization.13
Recent scholarship on pre-Columbian environmental manipulation by indigenous people has revealed the self-serving absurdity of the Spaniards' claims.14 California before the Spanish was not a primeval wilderness; it was one of the most densely populated regions on the continent outside present-day Mexico, with human inhabitants who altered its environments through hunting, fishing, gathering, burning, and horticulture. Grizzly bears and people coexisted in uneasy proximity, and they often killed one another. But this was no balance of power. People almost certainly excluded bears from key resource sites, hunted them for food and ceremonial uses, and may even have culled their populations for community safety or to prevent raids on valuable resources. Grizzlies were formidable neighbors, but then as now, people ruled the land.
The Spanish did, however, bring superior firepower to their first encounters with California's bears. In September of 1769, a motley band of soldiers from the Gaspar de Portolá expedition landed on the shores of what is now San Luis Obispo County, near Morro Bay, and marched inland in search of freshwater and wild game. Not far from the coast, they found "troops of bears" foraging in a marshy basin. The famished soldiers mounted their horses and began the chase. None of these animals had ever heard or felt gunfire, and they were caught exposed in open country. One grizzly took seven shots and maimed two of the Spaniards' mules before chasing the men away. A 375-pound female, small by California standards but enormous to Spanish eyes, died only after receiving nine bullet wounds, including a final shot to the head. The bruin provided a hearty meal, both "savory and good," and gave the soldiers a taste for bear meat that, just a few years later, would prove their salvation. The site became known as La Cañada de los Osos: The Valley of the Bears.15
The Spaniards settled in the north at Monterey, and then at San Carlos and San Antonio, but their missions were miserable, squalid places. They had meager supplies, and the landscape that surrounded them seemed to offer few resources. The missions in the south, at San Gabriel and San Diego, were even worse off, and Junípero Serra, the leader of the Spanish mission system in Alta California, sent provisions to the southern outposts overland by mule. Within three years of their arrival in California, the residents of the northern missions also began to fear starvation.
Enter Don Pedro Fages Beleta, the Spanish navy captain who served as the maritime chief of the Portolá expedition. After Portolá's departure, in 1770, Fages became Alta California's second Spanish military governor, and he concocted a daring plan to resolve the increasingly desperate situation. He and his small band of soldiers marched 140 miles, from Monterey back to Morro Bay, to find food. They reached La Cañada de los Osos in 1772 and remained in the area for three months, during which time they killed some thirty grizzlies and sent about nine thousand pounds of jerked bear meat back to the northern missions. Fages became an instant hero, and for his accomplishments he earned the nickname El Oso.16
Why did Fages need to travel 140 miles to find food? There are several possible answers. First, the Spaniards were picky and prejudiced eaters. They were accustomed to consuming large quantities of red meat, but they preferred the beef of proper Spanish cattle. They knew little about hunting, fishing, or trapping, other than shooting bears, and because they believed they were the ones doing the teaching, they rejected the advice of the area's indigenous inhabitants. But there is something else to this story. Fages needed to travel 140 miles to find food because in 1772, wild game in Alta California appears to have been relatively scarce.17
Before European settlement, a population of some three hundred fifty thousand American Indians used the region's fish and wildlife resources and altered its ecosystems in myriad ways. Consider two well-known examples: Fisheries biologists have estimated that indigenous people in the Central Valley alone caught up to 8.5 million pounds of salmon annually. The largest Euro-American commercial harvests taken in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries ranged from four to ten million pounds. Indians also managed landscapes to maintain terrestrial game, such as deer, using fire to clear brush and promote forage, and they undoubtedly took large numbers of these animals too. Some of these practices had already diminished by the late eighteenth century, but indigenous environmental manipulation and resource harvests continued at significant levels for several decades. The consequences of these activities for fish and wildlife must have been profound and complex, but it seems clear that indigenous hunting and gathering limited the abundance of wild game in Alta California into the second half of the eighteenth century.18
This situation changed swiftly and dramatically during the mission era. Between 1769 and 1834, the number of Indians living along the coast between San Diego and Sonoma dropped by an apocalyptic 75 percent. Disease and migration contributed to further declines through the end of the Mexican rancho era in 1848. By 1855 there were only about fifty thousand Indians left in California. For the few who survived, ecological changes, including the proliferation of exotic plants and animals, made it more difficult to pursue traditional subsistence life-styles based on the harvest of native species.19
Aside from its human consequences, the demographic collapse of California's Indians had enormous consequences for the region's ecology. Hunting, gathering, fishing, burning, and horticulture all dwindled. European livestock proliferated on the range, denuded the vegetation, and formed huge feral herds. Some native wildlife species were forced to compete with introduced European species for resources. But for many others, particularly those that did not compete with or suffer from the presence of feral livestock, the mission era represented a period of diminished human pressure, abundant resources, and population growth.20
This process began almost immediately, and it soon reached epic proportions. As early as 1786, the French navigator Jean Francois de La Pérouse wrote that no country was "more abundant in fish and game of every description." Tales of California's bountiful elk, antelope, deer, salmon, ducks, geese, and of course bears became commonplace in travelers' and settlers' accounts. In 1826 Frederick William Beechey, of the British Royal Navy, found the San Francisco Bay region "abounding in game of all kinds, so plentiful, indeed, as so to lessen the desire of pursuit." In 1841 the American settler John Bidwell described the Great Central Valley as containing "thousands of elk, antelope, deer, wild horses, ... incalculable thousands of wild geese, ducks, brants, cranes, pelicans, etc.," as well as "a great abundance of salmon in every stream." A complete list of such accounts could continue for many pages. California's boosters almost certainly exaggerated these reports in their attempts to attract new residents. Yet descriptions of plentiful wildlife were so common, among so many diverse and independent observers, that it would be folly to reject their essential veracity. By the 1830s, the same region in which El Oso had needed to travel 140 miles to find wild game had become a paradise for fish and wildlife-including grizzlies.21
No group of species profited more from this transition than the large carnivores, which benefited from a reduction in hunting but even more from an increase in resource availability. Eagles preyed on newly introduced agricultural livestock, including goats and piglets. Wolves stalked vast flocks of feral sheep. Coyotes and bobcats devoured house cats and Norway rats. Condors and vultures gathered around gruesome calaveras, or "places of skulls," where they and other scavengers picked at the discarded remains of animals slaughtered for the hide and tallow industries. And thousands of grizzlies became fat on the carcasses of Spanish livestock. Grizzlies are opportunistic eaters. They can survive on largely herbivorous diets, but they will consume extravagant quantities of meat when the chance arises. Livestock provided an unprecedented caloric resource, and by 1848 the population of bears in Alta California had probably reached its historic peak. On the eve of statehood, the region contained about seventy-five hundred naturalized Spanish settlers, or Californios, one hundred thousand Indians, sixty-five hundred miscellaneous immigrants, and some ten thousand grizzly bears-a staggering ratio of more than one grizzly for every twelve people.22
The historical record from California during this period abounds with stories about bears. In Southern California, grizzlies were "more plentiful than pigs," a situation that made ranching in the mountains above Santa Barbara and Los Angeles "utterly impossible." In central California, grizzlies loitered around the towns of San Luis Obispo and even Monterey, where El Oso had failed to find any just a few decades earlier. In Northern California, GeorgeC. Yount, one of the region's first Anglo-American pioneers, recalled that near his Napa homestead, grizzlies "were everywhere upon the plains, in the valleys, and on the mountains ... so that I have often killed as many as five or six in one day, and it was not unusual to see fifty or sixty within twenty-four hours." In 1827 a grizzly bear astonished the crew of a boat sailing near Angel Island, in San Francisco Bay, when it surfaced nearby and began swimming toward them. The sailors dispatched the animal with "four balls ... at close range" before it had an opportunity to board their vessel. As late as 1850, a grizzly wandered into the settlement at Mission Dolores on the outskirts of San Francisco.23
The Californios hunted and killed grizzlies. Yet unlike the Puritan farmers who had arrived in New England with a pious hatred of all things wild, the Catholic ranchers who settled in Alta California a century and a half later had no particular enmity toward the native animals. By the 1830s the region had an overabundance of livestock, and the ranchers, who never made much of an effort to maximize their profits, felt little urgency to control the predators or build their herds. Grizzlies became subjects of sport and leisure, and they assumed a central place in the grand festivals that defined the time (and still do in the popular imagination). Bear lassoing was one popular, if hazardous, diversion (see figure 3). Grizzlies also participated in the bear-and-bull fights that occurred in towns throughout the region. These fights continued a European tradition thousands of years old, but they reached their most elaborate development in Alta California. The bears almost always won these bloody contests, but the fights often turned into harrowing spectacles whose result was never a foregone conclusion.24
By 1840, Anglo-American pioneers were beginning to arrive in Alta California in larger numbers. Most had little appreciation for Californio culture and even less regard for wild animals. These newcomers killed grizzlies for a multitude of reasons-or sometimes for no reason at all-and they pursued their project with relentless enthusiasm. Grizzly killing soon became a rite of passage and a sign of manly virtue among a certain class of self-styled and self-promoting mountain men who sought fame and fortune in the Great West. They made guest appearances, toured with traveling shows, and published popular accounts, often ghostwritten, of their daring exploits. Hunters would even sell captured cubs as pets or performers. In Sacramento in 1858, one could purchase an untamed California grizzly cub for $15.50 and a trained bruin for $20.50, which was probably worth the modest markup. Men such as George Nidever, Colin Preston, and Seth Kiman all claimed to have killed dozens or even hundreds of bears, and each became briefly famous. But none achieved the mythical status of one John Capen Adams.25
"Grizzly" Adams arrived in California from Massachusetts in 1849, and from 1852 to 1856 he hunted and trapped bears in the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. Adams killed dozens of grizzlies. But he domesticated and cared for many others, including a feisty, fifteen-hundred-pound behemoth named Old Sampson, and his more sedate longtime companion, Ben Franklin, whom he walked on a leash and fitted with a packsaddle. Adams became famous for parading his menagerie through downtown San Francisco, and in 1856 he founded the Pacific Museum on the corner of Clay and Kearney Streets in the heart of that city. The establishment was more of a circus than a museum, and Adams was more of a clown than a curator. In the building's cramped quarters, he staged bizarre evening shows that included bears as well as elk, deer, lions, tigers, snakes, roadrunners, monkeys, and "numberless small animals," all choreographed to a "fine brass band" (see figure 4).26
As Monarch's capture demonstrated, grizzlies did not succumb to death or the indignities of captivity without a spirited fight, and California soon contained scores of men who had proved their masculine virtue at the expense of death or disfiguring injuries. "If you kill a bear," Harper's New Monthly Magazine declared in 1861, "it is a triumph worthy [of] enjoying; if you get killed yourself, some of the newspapers will give you a friendly notice; if you get crippled for life, you carry about you a patent of courage which may be useful in case you go into politics. ... Besides, it has its effect upon the ladies. A 'chawed up' man is very much admired all over the world." Adams died in 1860, at the age of forty-eight, from medical complications following a series of massive, bear-inflicted head wounds, several of which he received from the animals in his care.27
California's macho bear hunters were not the only people attempting to define the state's grizzlies. Another perspective, popular among Victorian moralists, portrayed grizzlies as benign creatures, righteous citizens, and even good parents. As early as 1850, U.S. Naval Chaplain Walter Colton wrote that the grizzly's child-rearing skills shone "like a good deed in a naughty world." Joaquin Miller, one of the most colorful characters in the late-nineteenth-century American West, had little in common with Chaplain Colton. He reportedly contracted scurvy while working as a cook at a mining camp and spent time in jail for stealing a horse before being elected a judge in Grant County, Oregon. But he agreed with Colton's assessment of the grizzly's character. In 1900 he published a book called True Bear Stories, much of which was undoubtedly false, in which he described the grizzly as "a good-natured lover of his family."28
The heyday for California's chaparral bears lasted little more than half a century-halted not only by hunting, capture, and commodification but also by the transformation of the state's rural landscapes into spaces of capitalist agricultural production where bears simply were not welcome. In the decades following the gold rush of 1849, the state's new Anglo-American elite succeeded in dispossessing the Californios of their lands and began converting the state's valley grasslands and wetlands into orchards and wheat fields. Ranching continued in the foothills and mountains, but the great drought of 1863-64 devastated California's overstocked rangelands and killed at least half of the state's cattle. Sheep weathered the drought better than cows but were more vulnerable to attack by large carnivores, and the woolgrowers, with their newfound political clout, took the lead in predator elimination.
No one knows how many domestic animals the grizzlies killed, but many clearly became habituated to livestock, and this earned them a place on the agricultural blacklist, along with numerous other species. Cattlemen awarded bounties for the scalps of special offenders, and hunters could profit several times from a single kill. After a hunter collected his reward, he would dismember the animal and sell off its oil, meat, hide, internal organs, and claws. This created a strong incentive for grizzly hunting. According to the naturalist HenryW. Henshaw, few species had "suffered more from persistent and relentless warfare waged by man than this formidable bear. ... The number of bears is each year diminished, till in many sections where formerly they were very abundant they have entirely disappeared."29
Despite these landscape transformations and eradication campaigns, grizzlies remained common in some areas for decades. Sightings continued through the 1860s in the San Francisco Bay Area, from Carmel to Santa Cruz, Palo Alto, San Jose, and Livermore, where Grizzly Adams had lived in his wilderness cabin. In the 1870s, grizzlies were still abundant near Yosemite Valley and in the vast belt of chaparral-covered mountains that stretched across Southern California from Point Conception in Santa Barbara County to Fort Tejon in Kern County and the Peninsular Ranges east of San Diego. As late as the 1880s, grizzlies frequented the Arroyo Seco outside Pasadena, now home to the Rose Bowl, where they indulged in the unhealthy habit of raiding apiaries owned by beekeepers armed with poison and guns.30
The number of recorded encounters between humans and grizzly bears declined during the final decades of the nineteenth century. Grizzlies were shot in Santa Cruz County near Ben Lomond in 1886, in Ventura County near Mount Piños in 1898, and in Orange County at the head of Trabuco Canyon in 1908. A man named CorneliusB. Johnson killed Southern California's last known grizzly near the town of Sunland, in the San Fernando Valley north of Burbank, in October 1916. Johnson used some stale beef from a local butcher shop as bait for a Newhouse No.5 bear trap, which he set out near some vineyards and weighed down with a fifty-pound drag log. He discovered the animal, a full day after it had become ensnared, half a mile into the foothills and nearly five hundred feet higher in elevation. The 254-pound bear had dragged the trap and log up the canyon until the whole tangled mess of bear and iron and wood got stuck in the brush. By the time Johnson found the exhausted sow, she was waiting to die.31
No one knows how long the last California grizzlies survived in the wild. In 1924, reports appeared of a massive, speckled, cinnamon-colored bear prowling the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada near Horse Corral Meadow in Sequoia National Park. Witnesses said it had a hump on its shoulders, which is one of the features that most easily distinguishes grizzlies from black bears. A local rancher named Jesse Agnew claimed to have killed another grizzly in the same area just a couple years earlier. Agnew's story received the support of C.Hart Merriam, the chief of the U.S. Biological Survey, who examined a tooth from the bear and proclaimed it a grizzly. The last reported sighting came in 1925, from a cattleman named Hengst, near the headwaters of Cliff Creek deep in the park, but no specimens, photographs, or other physical evidence ever emerged. And then the sightings stopped. It had taken just seventy-five years of statehood for Californians to exterminate their most spectacular land animal.32
A Symbol of Statehood and Beyond
The California grizzly may have gone extinct, but it did not disappear. In 1890 the historian and naturalist Charles Howard Shinn envisioned a future when the bear, having "impressed himself irrevocably upon the imagination," would achieve immortality. Farms and cities would replace wilderness, and the grizzly would fade away from the countryside. In its passing, however, the species would take its place alongside the American pioneer and other cherished anachronisms in a new chapter of national folklore-a "noble myth" of westward expansion, comparable in its grandeur to the epics of medieval England and ancient Greece. It was impossible to say exactly what this heroic legend would contain, because it would remain incomplete until the final California grizzly had vanished from its last mountain redoubt. For Shinn, the grizzly's extinction was not only inevitable but also essential for the patriotic reunification and rebirth of a country still reeling from half a century of internecine violence and frenetic change that included the Civil War, Manifest Destiny, and the Gilded Age.33
Shinn was not the only observer who believed that wild animal extinctions were necessary and inevitable in American progress. During the previous two decades, a wide variety of commentators, capitalists, and politicians had made similar statements about other species in other parts of the American West. They argued that the settlement of the region required a great transformation of nature and society-one that would see unruly wild beasts and uncivilized native peoples give way to domestic animals and an industrious white society. The California grizzly was just one creature among the many that had no place in this new American future.34
Shinn had good reason to believe that the grizzly would become a permanent feature of California's foundation mythology. His article coincided with the U.S. Census Bureau's announcement, in 1890, that the country no longer had a western frontier, which it defined as a single contiguous line beyond which the population density decreased to less than two people per square mile. The West was now, at least in official terms, settled. The western frontier had occupied a prominent place on the mental maps of white Americans since the seventeenth century, and its closure created an uncommon opportunity for collective reflection and mythmaking. This process was already well under way in California, where the grizzly bear had emerged as an icon of both the fading frontier and the new society that was replacing it.
In the Bear Flag Revolt, of June 1846, a band of Anglo-American interlopers, acting at the behest of U.S. Army Major JohnC. Frémont, marched into the town square of Sonoma, fifty miles north of San Francisco, and replaced the Mexican flag there with a makeshift banner featuring a star, a grizzly bear, and the words CALIFORNIA REPUBLIC. The bear symbolized power and defiance for a ragtag group of insurgents whose intention was to seize control of land that the Mexicans had wrestled from the Spanish, and the Spanish had usurped from the Indians. The California Republic was short-lived. It ended less than a month later, when army forces occupied Monterey and the Bear Flag rebels sided with the United States in the Mexican-American War. California joined the Union in 1848 and achieved statehood in 1850. A redesigned version of the insurgents' original Sonoma banner became its official flag in 1911 (see figure 5).
The Great Seal of the State of California, adopted at California's constitutional convention on the eve of statehood in 1849, also features a grizzly. This bear shares its space with grapevines, representing agriculture; a miner, embodying resource extraction; sailboats, signifying trade; and the Roman goddess Minerva, symbolizing wisdom, poetry, craft, and commerce. Native Americans, Franciscan missionaries, and Californios are nowhere to be found.
Shinn was right to identify the grizzly as an enduring symbol of early California. But he was wrong to think that most people would look back on the bear's destruction as a necessary step in American progress, and he underestimated its versatility as a cultural icon. By the time the California grizzly went extinct, people had seen it as a man-eater, a cattle killer, a test of masculine virtue, an exemplar of domesticity, and a source of meat for their starving communities. They had pressed it into service as a totem, a trophy, a varmint, a delicacy, a matador, and a jester (as in Grizzly Adams's grotesque basement circus). They had mobilized it as a symbol of revolt and statehood, of the fading frontier and the residual wilderness, of reckless consumption and the promise of conservation. People had even used grizzlies to hunt other grizzlies. The grizzly provided Californians with such a powerful symbol not only because it played a unique role during a formative historical period but also because it typified a much larger transformation that reordered the state's ecosystems and rearranged its animal populations. We now turn to that larger context of wildlife exploitation and ecological change.
The Beleaguered Menagerie
Not all wild animal species responded in the same way to the social, economic, and ecological changes that transformed California during the nineteenth century. Some, such as the grizzly, probably experienced brief periods of superabundance, in response to diminished human hunting and increased resource availability, only to become rare during the final decades of the century. Species that thrived in fields and farmlands probably increased their numbers. But many others declined in population due to habitat loss, increased competition, and predation from larger, more aggressive species. The net result of all of this change was that by 1900, many of the state's most valuable and charismatic fish and game species reached their lowest levels ever recorded, before or since. We must understand the grizzly's story within this broader context.
Marine species were among the earliest to suffer from exploitation. Beginning around 1780, the sea otter supported the first major wildlife industry in Alta California. By 1800, ships were arriving there from around the world, and sea otter pelts, which had become North America's most valuable natural resource by weight, were appearing in markets as far away as Shanghai and London. This was California's first "gold" rush. By 1840 the fur trade had nearly led to the sea otter's extinction. A sea otter harvest would briefly reemerge around 1890, and this second phase of hunting again almost annihilated the species, as well as several other marine mammals. The North Pacific Fur Seal Convention of 1911, the world's first wildlife conservation treaty, banned further exploitation, but by this time fewer than two thousand sea otters remained in the near-shore waters throughout western North America. Despite their long-predicted extinction and to the amazement of many naturalists, sea otters reappeared along the California coast in the 1930s. In 2010 there were more than twenty-six hundred sea otters in California waters. The resurgence of this species ranks among the most dramatic reversals in the annals of American wildlife conservation, but the otters' return remains controversial among fishers forced to compete with these voracious carnivores for valuable crabs, snails, clams, mussels, urchins, and abalone.35
A vigorous trade in freshwater aquatic species began almost as soon as sea otter populations started to decline. In 1827 Jedediah Smith led a hunting expedition to the San Joaquin River that bagged fifteen hundred pounds of skins. By the 1830s, French, British, and Anglo-American trappers were making regular visits to California's interior valleys in search of aquatic fur-bearing mammals, including beaver, river otter, mink, and muskrat. With its abundant wildlife and proximity to the port town of Yerba Buena, now San Francisco, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta soon became the hub of Alta California's inland fur trade. In 1840 the author Thomas Farnham noted that "beaver were very numerous ... on the hundreds of small rush-covered islands" in the delta. "There is probably no spot of equal extent in the whole continent of America," he concluded, "which contains so many of the much-sought animals." By the time of Farnham's writing, the beaver market had already begun to crash in Europe, but large-scale trapping in California continued for several years.36
It did not take long for the fur trade to expand to terrestrial species. Bobcats, wolves, fishers, martens, wolverines, foxes, raccoons, skunks, badgers, and bears all provided luxurious winter furs, while deer, antelope, and elk supplied fat for tallow and hides for tanning. In 1833 John Work, an officer with the Hudson's Bay Company, recorded that his party had killed "395 elk, 148 deer, 17 bears 8 antelopes" during a month in the Central Valley. According to Work, this was "certainly a great many more than was required, but when the [hunters] have ammunition and see animals they must needs fire upon them be wanted or not."37
One of the species that suffered the most from this onslaught was the tule elk, a diminutive subspecies of wapiti found only in California. Tule elk probably declined due to competition and diseases from domestic livestock and predation from wolves and grizzlies, but they also benefited during the early nineteenth century from a reduction in Indian hunting. By 1845 Charles Wilkes, of the United States Exploring Expedition, estimated that California was exporting three thousand elk and deer skins per year for the hide and tallow industries, at between fifty cents and a dollar each. The State of California banned all tule elk hunting in 1873, but by then many believed that the species had already gone extinct. The following year, a farmhand working for the Miller and Lux agricultural empire discovered a small band of elk hiding in the marshes near Buena Vista Lake in the San Joaquin Valley. The firm's proprietor, Henry Miller, gave orders to protect the animals, and in 1904 he donated a portion of his herd to the U.S. Biological Survey for keeping at Sequoia National Park. Ten years later, Miller gave more of the elk to the California Academy of Sciences, which began to distribute them to parks around the state. All tule elk now derive from that single bottlenecked population.38
As the numbers of hide- and fur-bearing mammals declined, hunters shifted their focus to birds. Between 1850 and 1856, collectors from the Farallon Egg Company harvested three to four million murre and guillemot eggs from the Farallon Islands, west of the Golden Gate. By 1900, merchants were selling at least two hundred fifty thousand ducks, many shot in Central Valley wetlands, in San Francisco markets each year, and more than five hundred thousand waterfowl, upland game animals, and shorebirds were passing through the combined markets of San Francisco and Los Angeles annually. Wealthy urban sportsmen and rural subsistence hunters also took considerable harvests.39
By 1900 the populations of most valuable fish and game species had reached historic lows. The wood duck, the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, and the band-tailed pigeon had all declined. Rails and other shorebirds no longer frequented their ancestral haunts. Antelopes had vacated most of their range. Beavers and river otters lingered in only a few remote backwaters. The last herd of northern elephant seals retreated to Guadalupe Island off the coast of Mexico. Wolves withdrew into the Rocky Mountains, and jaguars vanished into the Sonoran Desert. Even the common mule deer became scarce.40
California was not alone in the loss of its native fauna. More than two hundred animal species have gone extinct in and around North America since the beginning of the colonial period.41 The victims have included a disproportionate number of coastal and island-dwelling birds, such as the great auk, the Labrador duck, and the magnificent chickcharnie-a three-foot-tall flightless barn owl, elfin in appearance and endemic to the Bahamian island of Andros. Species such as the heath hen provided easy targets for mariners, lost their habitats to land-use change, succumbed to exotic predators, and became the targets of sportsmen, commercial hunters, and scientific collectors who canvased the countryside gathering specimens of dwindling species. The passenger pigeon became the subject of great seasonal hunts in the Northeast and the Midwest, until the birds abruptly disappeared. Thousands of Carolina parakeets died to become hats, as did millions of egrets, herons, terns, gulls, and hummingbirds. Island mammals, large carnivores, freshwater fish, and mollusks also fared poorly. Little information exists for most taxa, but it seems likely that no class of North American vertebrate escaped the nineteenth century with all its constituent species.
Historians have described California's nineteenth-century economic history as a chronicle of natural resource exploitation that progressed, with plenty of overlap, from animal to mineral to vegetable. The animal part-California's wild-game hunting frenzy-happened fast, happened late compared to other areas of the continent, and took place on a massive scale. But in the end, it differed little from the overall pattern. Newcomers of all races and classes consumed and wasted wild animals until few remained. Most seem to have believed either that California's fish and game were unlimited or that it was appropriate to exhaust a region's wildlife resources during the early stages of its capitalist economic development. As early as 1885, the historian TheodoreH. Hittell wrote that the "days of fur hunting, which was once a great business in California, are gone; and it can not be long until wild fur-bearing animals will be curiosities in the country." San Francisco remained the market center of the Pacific game trade until around 1915, but by then the hunters and trappers had long since moved on to fresher fields in more-remote regions.42
The California fur trade followed a pattern of exploitation and decline that has become familiar to all students of natural resource economics. But this was no simple tragedy of the commons, in which rational individuals, acting independently and in their own self-interest, inevitably exhaust a common property resource. The wild animals that people captured and consumed in nineteenth-century California, from the grizzly to the sea otter to the tule elk, represented much more than just commodities. They served as instruments of cultural domination, of religious persecution, of economic imperialism, of power, and of violence. Those who controlled animals controlled the region's most valuable natural resources, and, in an economy based on resource extraction, they controlled other people too.
The history of the conservation movement that emerged in the late nineteenth century is in part a chronicle of efforts to restore decimated populations of fish and game. It is also, however, a tale of social conflict. Squabbles among various groups about access to and control over fish and game, as well as who should accept culpability for wildlife declines, sparked a series of debates throughout the country, including California's first major wildlife conservation battle, which began in 1912. By that time, it was probably already too late for California's grizzlies, but the stories of the chaparral bear and other lost wildlife species would serve as rallying cries and cautionary tales for generations of conservationists.
Responses to the Decline
Californians responded to wildlife declines in several ways. They launched research expeditions, founded scientific societies, built academic institutions, started government conservation programs, and enacted dozens of laws that regulated the harvest of fish and game. These were typical responses for the late nineteenth century. Similar efforts were occurring throughout the country, and California's conservationists worked alongside their progressive colleagues in the Northeast, the Northwest, and the Midwest.
California may not have been unique in its loss of wildlife or in the efforts of some people to protect its fish and game, but it did offer a compelling perspective from which to view the momentous social and ecological changes that occurred throughout the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century. The state represented the culmination of Manifest Destiny in North America, and it would serve as the seat of American imperial power in the Pacific Basin. Between 1848 and 1880, San Francisco grew from a seaside village into the eighth-largest city in the United States, with a population of 234,000. The San Francisco Bay Area, meanwhile, contained more people than all other major western cities combined.43
The new Californians struggled to understand the deluges, fires, mudslides, and droughts that shaped the landscapes of the Pacific Coast. Economic development required natural resources, which California possessed in abundance. But it also required a modicum of stability, which nature failed to provide. There was a point in the mid-nineteenth century when Californians had a choice. They could work with the elements or stand and fight. They could, for example, relocate their state capital from a floodplain to higher ground or decide to stay put and build levees. They opted for the latter. Stephen Powers captured this mentality in 1869 when we wrote that "nature is eccentric and obstinate here and must be broken with steam and with steel."44 So Californians raised capital in distant financial centers, imported cheap labor from Europe and Asia, and devised new technologies to reorganize their landscapes. They unearthed minerals, raised cattle, planted orchards, sowed wheat, cultivated grapevines, and built cities. They also denuded their rangelands, drained their marshes, channelized their rivers, felled their forests, and washed their mountains out to the sea.
As early as the 1870s, the scientists and conservationists who witnessed these changes in California began to develop a distinctive viewpoint, approach, and set of institutions that would shape the future of fish and game conservation there and elevate them to national and international leadership positions. The state's abundance and diversity of wild species, combined with its increasing wealth, growing civic institutions, and geography that placed large urban centers in close proximity to wild areas, contributed to the rise of California as a center for natural history research and conservation activism.45
Despite the havoc wreaked on its environment, California gained a reputation as a naturalists' haven. By the middle of the nineteenth century, San Francisco had become a required stop for all serious students of natural history. Those who came there found that the state still possessed wild tracts of land close to the city where naturalists could explore unsurveyed areas and discover new species unknown to science. The proximity of urban areas to wildlands enabled a legion of naturalists, even those with scant resources, to map California's physical and biological diversity and document the changes that were transforming its landscapes. The knowledge that development might eradicate many unique species only increased the naturalists' enthusiasm. First came the contract collectors, who gathered botanical specimens for museums in Europe and the Northeast. Then came the self-educated amateur naturalists, such as John Muir, who achieved notoriety in the state's small scientific community. Next came the government surveyors, who sought to document the state's resources for economic development. These included the members of the famed Whitney Survey, which traveled "up and down California" during the 1860s, as well as the Death Valley Expedition, which surveyed the state's eastern deserts in 1891. Finally, there were the professional academics-the museum researchers and the professors.46
Naturalists played central roles in the establishment of all of California's major scientific institutions. Californians founded the first scientific institution on the West Coast, the California Academy of Sciences, in 1853, with botanists and zoologists as its primary participants. During the early twentieth century, BartonW. Evermann, a fisheries biologist, became one of the academy's longest-serving and most influential directors. The University of California, a publicly funded land-grant institution, began accepting students in 1868, and that same year Joseph LeConte offered its first course in zoology. Stanford University opened its doors in 1891 under the direction of its first president, the famous ichthyologist David Starr Jordan.47
It was not unusual for naturalists, who were much more prominent at the time than they are today, to play leading roles in scientific institutions. Yet their work revealed important aspects of California's scientific community that distinguished it from those of New York, Boston, and London. The state's new universities and museums lacked the libraries, specimen collections, and laboratory facilities of more-established and better-endowed institutions a continent-or continents-away. The California Academy of Sciences launched some foreign expeditions, but most of the state's researchers still lacked the philanthropic funding necessary to support far-flung adventures. They did, however, have a vast, sparsely populated, and easily accessible countryside all around them and available for research. California attracted scientists who stressed observation over experimentation and looked first to the landscape and only later to the laboratory for their subjects of study. Unlike their eastern counterparts, whose elaborate imperial expeditions have become both legendary and infamous, California naturalists tended to focus their research on the region where they lived.48
This regional focus had implications not only for the content of scientific knowledge but also for the role of science and scientists in California politics. Elected officials expected state-funded universities to conduct research that contributed to California's two major industries, mining and agriculture. Many scientists chose instead to study California's wild landscapes and diverse flora and fauna. As they traveled around the state, they witnessed the conversion of its landscapes and the eradication of its native species. Their experiences watching the decline of fish and game led them to argue against both the myth of resource inexhaustibility and the wisdom of unfettered exploitation, which played such central roles in the state's economic development. They soon found themselves in the uncomfortable position of asking for financial support from the state while denouncing the practices of its most important industries. By 1890 many of California's leading scientists were among its most active conservationists.49
Conservation meant different things to different people in different contexts. For fish and game, it could refer to the introduction or propagation of species for the purpose of augmenting wild populations, or to the enactment and enforcement of regulations establishing harvest seasons and bag limits. It could also refer to federal, state, or nongovernmental efforts. The federal government started the Bureau of Biological Survey in 1885 to facilitate research and conservation, but most public programs occurred at the state level because the federal government appeared to have little constitutional or statutory jurisdiction over wild animals within state boundaries. California began enacting fish and game conservation measures almost as soon as it joined the Union. In 1852 the state legislature passed its first such measure, a law that prohibited elk, deer, antelope, quail, mallard, and wood duck hunting for six months each year. Several codes attempting to restore depleted populations of valuable species followed. In 1870 California established the country's first wildlife refuge, at Lake Merritt in the city of Oakland. But this was an isolated event: the state had little authority or resources to purchase or set aside lands or waters for conservation, and the movement to establish wildlife refuges would not gain widespread support until the 1930s.50
The California legislature's most important move on behalf of fish and game during the first few decades of statehood was its establishment of a conservation commission. In 1870 it created the Commissioners of Fisheries, which it tasked with replenishing and building stocks of commercial and sporting fish, mainly through importation and propagation. Eight years later the state expanded the organization and renamed it the Board of Fish and Game Commissioners. This made California one of the first two states, along with New Hampshire, to establish an administrative agency for fish and game conservation. Others soon followed, and by 1910 most states had similar agencies.51
During its first two decades, the California commission enjoyed widespread popularity. It pursued uncontroversial programs, such as introducing popular fish species from other regions, constructing hatcheries to rebuild diminished salmon runs, and educating the public about the value of wild species. The commission had an early success in 1879, when it imported striped bass from New Jersey and planted them in the Carquinez Strait. Within five years the species was appearing in San Francisco markets, and today it is one of the delta's most important sport fish. By 1900 the commission had become a model for similar organizations around the country, and it could boast a "well-earned reputation for scientific achievement" and "great returns" despite only a "small annual expenditure."52
The commission's early programs may have been popular, but they helped create the context for a series of conflicts. Opinions differed about what had caused the decline of valuable species. Some observers recognized that the causes were numerous and diverse: hunting, development, pollution, the introduction of exotic species, and other factors had transformed the state's land and waterscapes and reduced the populations of many important fish and game species. Other commentators grasped for simpler and uglier answers. California had attracted immigrants from around the world who sought work in resource-based industries and provided convenient scapegoats for disgruntled whites who were only a generation or two from their own immigrant roots. Chinese and other East Asians often took the blame for overfishing, while Italians and other southern Europeans received criticism for overhunting. Several decades passed before scholars began to understand that the commission deserved less credit than it claimed and the immigrant fishers and hunters received more blame than they deserved.53
After 1900 the state legislature began to enact a long list of fishing and hunting codes. By the end of the decade it had established much of the basic legal and bureaucratic infrastructure for fish and game conservation that remains in effect in California today. As the commission's duties-along with its budget and staff-increased, it extended its regulatory work into new arenas and bolstered its law enforcement capacities. It would soon become clear that the commission's job was not only to propagate and conserve wild animals but also to mediate debates about who should have access to and control over those species. This was a complex task, and the commission in California, like those in other states, often failed to promote the most equitable and sustainable solutions.54
Monarch the bear lived in captivity for twenty-two years, most of which he spent in the zoo at Golden Gate Park. Toward the end of his life he no longer attracted crowds, though he did receive visits from naturalists, who sketched him, photographed him, fed him apples, or just stared in wonderment at this living symbol of the breathtaking changes that had taken place in California during the course of a single ursine lifetime. In May of 1911, zookeepers put the elderly, arthritic, nearly toothless beast to sleep. At the time of his death, Monarch was a corpulent 1,127 pounds. No one knows how many California grizzlies outlived him in the wild, but he was surely among the last of his kind (see figure 6).55
[Figure 6 around here]
One of the naturalists who visited Monarch in San Francisco was the charismatic artist, author, educator, conservationist, and founding chair of the Boy Scouts of America, Ernest Thompson Seton. Years later, Seton offered a concise account of the grizzly's decline in the American West. Grizzlies, he wrote, had been "left at the mercy of men with no mercy."56 Few statements could more eloquently disguise the complexity of the truth. Many hunters and ranchers did fail to show the grizzly compassion, even as its numbers dwindled. Yet the grizzly's history in California is far too complex to reduce to a facile morality tale. The California grizzly, like so many other species, got caught up in a great economic, political, cultural, and ecological transformation. For a time these changes benefited the grizzly; only later did they lead to the bear's demise.
The extinction of the California grizzly took place long before endangered species entered the English lexicon. Even wildlife only became common, in its current compound form, in the 1910s. Yet the grizzly's story offers a crucial insight for anyone who wants to understand the subsequent history of wildlife and endangered species in the United States. This epic saga is only partly about an animal. It is also about a place, and about how the people who lived there understood, envisioned, portrayed, and promoted its political, economic, and ecological future. We could say the same of the stories of myriad other endangered species.
It is a paradoxical fate to be simultaneously adopted and eradicated, but such is the predicament of an extinct mascot. Most Californians are probably unaware of the grizzly's history in their state. Those who do know seem to view it with a sense of irony and regret similar to what Allan Kelly expressed after Monarch's debut at Woodward's Garden in 1889. Few Californians would likely want to see grizzlies patrolling the crowded trails of Muir Woods, Yosemite Valley, or Griffith Park in Los Angeles. But the extermination of this remarkable animal is not something to take pride in anymore either. Now when Californians speak of their departed grizzlies, they talk not about courage or progress or inevitability but about folly and destruction and the necessity for restraint. In the words of the author Susan Snyder, the grizzly's disappearance "evokes the absence of what else is now gone from California," including its lost landscapes and biological diversity.57 The story of the California grizzly has become an allegory of ecological decline.
It is easy to embrace a story of ecological decline when you do not have to contend with thousand-pound omnivores in your daily life. When you do, things become more complicated. In other regions of the United States, controversies still surround living grizzlies, and outside Alaska their populations have continued to fare poorly.
It was not until 1973-almost fifty years after the chaparral bear's extinction-that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began monitoring the country's remaining bears, all of which lived in Idaho, Montana, or Wyoming. Two years later, the FWS listed the grizzlies in the lower forty-eight states as threatened, under the federal Endangered Species Act. By that time their total number had declined, from around fifty thousand individuals in the early nineteenth century to about one thousand in just six scattered populations. In 1982 the FWS completed its first Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan, and three years later a consortium of government agencies formed the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. A small group of grizzlies eventually returned to Washington State, and in 2007 the service announced that the Yellowstone population, which had increased from a low of 136 to more than five hundred bears, no longer qualified as endangered. Today, however, the grizzly's total non-Alaskan U.S. population is still less than fifteen hundred and remains limited to the North Cascades and Northern Rockies.58
More than a century after Monarch's death, Californians are still surrounded by bears. The state's living, breathing grizzlies are of course long gone, expelled decades ago from the fringes of an expanding society. Today's grizzlies are symbolic beasts of our own making. But we also have dozens of metaphorical grizzlies that are not bears at all. They may be condors, tortoises, foxes, smelts, or any other imperiled species that has become a symbol of the contested relationships between people and nonhuman nature in the places where they live. The rest of this book explores the wildlife and endangered species conservation debates that began in California around the time of the grizzly's extinction and grew to encompass all of these creatures and many, many more. As we will continue to see, these debates remain as much about the politics of place as about wild animals.
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