It’s Time to Restore Grizzlies to California

The grizzly bear is California’s state animal and the centerpiece of its flag and seal — but a grizzly hasn’t roamed the wilds of the Golden State since 1924. It’s time to bring the state flag back to life and return grizzlies to California.

Before European colonization, California was home to 10,000 grizzlies, almost one-fifth of all the grizzlies in what’s now the lower 48. Grizzlies lived across California, from the Sierra Nevada to the Central Valley to the coast ranges — in other words, everywhere but California’s low deserts. Native Californians had coexisted with the bear since time immemorial, many considering grizzlies their relatives.

Decades of persecution — not habitat loss — drove grizzlies off the landscape. Returning these incredible animals to the state’s open spaces is a key step in rewilding California and saving one of America’s most iconic species.


The Center for Biological Diversity is at the core of the effort to return grizzlies to California.

In 2014 the Center filed a legal petition calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to greatly expand its plans for recovering grizzly bears across the American West. The petition identified 110,000 square miles of potential grizzly habitat in places like the Gila/Mogollon complex in Arizona and New Mexico, Utah's Uinta Mountains, the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and California's Sierra Nevada.

As grizzlies are under fire across the northern Rockies, expanding their range not only moves them closer to recovery beyond the Service’s minimalistic vision of a mere 2,000 bears across only 4% of their former range — it also helps secure their future outside more hostile states.

The Center’s petition inspired efforts across the West to explore a much more courageous vision for grizzly recovery, including by the California Grizzly Research Network, a University of California research group that undertook a thorough study of the past, present, and future of grizzlies in the state.

Along with other exciting findings, the Research Network’s modeling shows that there’s a far larger area of feasible habitat for grizzlies in California than even the Center’s expansive petition advocated for, including across the Sierra Nevada, the northwest forests, and Los Padres National Forest. Ultimately, the group’s research concludes that returning bears to California isn’t impossible, but it’s a choice we can make.

In anticipation of the 2024 centennial of the last wild grizzly sighting in California, a group of scientists from the Research Network, leaders from California Tribes, and advocates from conservation nonprofits — co-organized and facilitated by the Center for Biological Diversity — launched the California Grizzly Alliance to fight to bring the bears back. The Alliance is now working on a comprehensive strategy to achieve grizzly recovery in the state.

Returning bears to California is a crucial step toward recovering them under the Endangered Species Act. Moreover, grizzlies are the ideal ambassador for the whole-ecosystem, large-landscape connectivity and restoration we need to protect biodiversity in an era of runaway climate change. It’s time to bring the bears back to the Golden State and the Center is committed to realizing this important and bold vision.

Learn more about the California Grizzly Alliance and the California Grizzly Research Network.

Press contact: Hallie Kutak, Staff Attorney and Senior Conservation Advocate, 510-844-7100 ext. 317, email Hallie Kutak


Photo by National Park Service