Those black bears you see in Southern California, this is how they arrived
Monday, Jan 7, 2019

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.

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.

Joseph Dale Gentry, circa 1910, was California Fish and Game commissioner from 1931 to 1934, and was responsible for a unique plan to transplant black bears into the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains of Southern California. (Courtesy photo)

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.