Thousands of grizzlies once inhabited California. Less than 75 years after the discovery of gold, however, every grizzly in the state had been tracked down and killed. ©Jim Peaco/NPS

Although prominently featured on the California flag, a wild grizzly bear hasn’t been seen in the state since the 1920s.

In the early 1800s, about 50,000 grizzlies roamed between the Pacific Ocean and the Great Plains. In California alone, before the Gold Rush (1848–1858), there were probably 10,000 grizzlies.

And California’s Yosemite history is filled with stories about this magnificent animal. In fact, the name “Yosemite” itself may derive from uzamati, the Miwok word for grizzly bear.

Watch the six-and-a-half minute video below, titled California Grizzly, from Yosemite National Park. In it, you’ll learn about the state’s relationship with Ursus arctos.

The California grizzly has been and is one of the state’s most visible and enduring symbols. ©From the video “California Grizzly,” Yosemite National Park

Sadly, by the early 1920s, California’s grizzlies had been trapped and hunted into extinction. Such history is particularly relevant today, now that the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzlies have just been delisted; and Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are preparing to take over management of the bears that step outside national park borders. This would be a good time to glance back over our shoulders and learn from our past. As Pete Devine, the Yosemite Conservancy resident naturalist, says in the video, “Perhaps we shouldn’t take over every wild place and every wild thing. Perhaps we should make space for wild animals, for plants that are rare, for landscapes that are rare. That should be important to us.”

Although there is a movement to reintroduce grizzly bears to California, potential problems with the bears living in proximity to people make it unlikely. The state has reached a point of no return with its grizzlies. It’s a story of loss that Idaho, Montana and Wyoming may want to read.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,