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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

"Historically and right on up till the Gold Rush(circa 1850),Grizzly and black bear territory overlapped in the forests of Northern California, down along the eastern length of the state, and into the Tehachapi Mountains of southern California, according to historical accounts".............."But grizzlies occupied the lowlands, including most of the Bay Area and SoCal regions".........."According to California Grizzly, often sited as the most comprehensive book on the topic, the statewide grizzly population was once 10,000"................"It said one account puts a grizzly in San Francisco’s Mission Dolores in 1850"..............."Another said, “within five or six leagues from San Francisco, they are often seen in herds (A league is between 2.5 and 4.5 miles, and grizzlies are typically considered solitary animals)"............."A Napa Valley pioneer reported, it was not unusual to see 50 or 60 within twenty-four hours"............... "Settlers drove the Griz to extinction in a matter of decades; the last one was shot in 1922 in Tulare County"................"Roughly thirty years later it was declared the official state animal".............."Black Bears were transplanted into Southern California(historically not native to this part of the state) between 1931-34, by then California Game Commissioner J.Dale Gentry"............."As an avid sportsman, Gentry believed that reintroducing bears to the local mountains would benefit the ecosystem and boost tourism"..........Big Bear Lake and the San Bernardino Mountains saw between 18 and 34 Black Bears released there..............They were the "founding fathers and mothers" of todays Black Bear population in SoCal................California Fish and Game suggests that California's black bear population has increased in recent years, being observed in areas where they were not seen 50 years ago along the Central Coast and Transverse mountain ranges of Southern California"............"Between 25,000 and 30,000 black bears are now estimated to occupy 52,000 square miles in California"

Those black bears you see in Southern California, this is how they arrived

California black bears coats range in color from black to cinnamon. (Courtesy photo)

It may be surprising or even a little disappointing, but the iconic black bears that roam wild in the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains didn’t arrive there in ancient times through a process of natural migration, but instead they arrived in 1933, in crates, in the back of trucks.

Prior to the 1850 Gold rush period, Black Bears naturally
occupied California as far south as the Tehachapi Mountains

The importation of black bears was the brainchild of J. Dale Gentry, chairman of the California Fish and Game Commission from 1931 to 1934. Gentry was also a wealthy and sometimes eccentric San Bernardino businessman, best known for his ownership of the California Hotel. As an avid sportsman, Gentry believed that reintroducing bears to the local mountains would benefit the ecosystem and boost tourism.
Before the arrival of humans, grizzly bears were the unopposed monarchs of the area mountains. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the grizzly bear population was the likely reason that black bears did not naturally inhabit the area.

Californians capture a grizzly bear. Courtesy of the California State Library.

The California grizzly’s habitat began shrinking in the late 1800s when the state’s human population began to expand. The grizzly’s potentially ferocious nature ultimately led to their rapid extermination. The last grizzly in Southern California was killed in 1916, in Tujunga Canyon near Sunland. The last one in the state was killed in August 1922, in Tulare County.

Tulare County, California-site of last Grizzly Bear killed in the state in 1922

 Men lasso a bear in Ventura County. Courtesy of the USC Libraries - California Historical Society Collection.

Gentry’s transplantation plan came to fruition in October 1933, when the Fish and Game Commission captured six black bears in Yosemite, and released them in the Santa Ana River Canyon, near Seven Oaks, about 6 miles south of Big Bear Lake.
Gentry announced that more bears would be released over time, and that they would not be a danger to the local wildlife. “They will not harm deer or any other game,” he said. “They are not to be confused with the ferocious grizzly, as the black bear is of an entirely different species.” Gentry must have felt he had personal expertise in the subject, since he owned a young black bear that was given to him by a Shasta County game warden.
The Fish and Game Commission released six more black bears into the San Bernardino Mountains on Nov. 14, 1933. The release of these animals was captured on film. Six black bears had been released in the San Gabriel Mountains near Crystal Lake a few days earlier.
The total number of bears released into the local mountains as part of Gentry’s transplant program ranges from 18 to 34.

San Bernardino County and Big Bear-site of Black Bear transplants

On Nov. 17, 1933, one of the recently released bears was sighted in Cucamonga, ambling across the intersection of Archibald Avenue and McKinley Street, where Cucamonga Elementary School now sits. The oblivious bear caused quite a commotion and frightened a group of children on their way to school before it disappeared into an orange grove. Outraged parents quickly contacted commissioner Gentry and demanded he “come pick up his pet.”
he defiant Gentry responded in the Nov. 18, 1933, issue of the San Bernardino Sun, “I don’t see why people are so worried about these bears. They wouldn’t harm anyone.”
On Nov. 20, the Cucamonga bear was cornered in a eucalyptus tree in Ontario, where it kept game wardens at bay for two days. The bear had reportedly been sampling the local bee hives before it scampered up the tree. When the bear finally came down, it was captured, and returned to its original release site in the Big Bear area.
The renegade Cucamonga-Ontario bear had traveled at least 50 miles in just over two weeks, clearly demonstrating the extensive range the animals can cover. Just a few days earlier, another black bear was found on a power pole in Yucaipa.
Sightings of “Gentry’s bears” became frequent, and some residents of mountain and foothill communities grew increasingly angry about the “ferocious beasts” that had been released.
The biggest uproar over Gentry’s bears came in June 1934, when two of the animals were shot and killed after raiding outdoor refrigerators in Wrightwood. One of the bears was killed by William Bristol, a well-known author, rancher, and owner of Wrightwood’s Acorn Lodge. The other bear was brought down with a .22 caliber rifle by Clyde Steele, also a Wrightwood lodge owner.
Gentry asked the district attorney in San Bernardino to bring charges against both men for illegally shooting the bears.
Bristol was charged with killing a bear which was not injuring his property, hunting without a license, and killing wild game after sunset. Bristol vowed to fight his own case in court and declared “he would not permit the bears to frighten people at the resort or to steal food from outdoor refrigerators in Wrightwood.”
Rarely had two men of such resolve and unique character like Gentry and Bristol tangled in San Bernardino courts, and the newspapers carried extensive coverage of the bear killing case. On July 20, 1933, a jury found Steele not guilty of the bear crime, and a few days later, the district attorney dropped the charges against Bristol.
In December 1933, Gov. Frank F. Merriam asked Gentry to step down from his position of State Fish and Game commissioner. While there was no direct mention of the bear escapades being the cause of the dismissal, there was little doubt the string of misadventures played a major role in the governor’s request.
You can call it misguided, unfortunate, or brilliant, but there’s no question that Gentry’s unusual transplant experiment accounts for a significant portion of the wild bears that roam the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains today.

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