Current Projects

The California Grizzly Research Network is pursuing around a dozen distinct but interrelated projects. This page contains only projects that are well underway as of winter 2018, two-and-a-half years into our group's work. Click here for publications, and check back soon for more updates!

1. Public Knowledge Of and Attitudes About California Grizzlies

This project uses a public opinion survey of California residents to understand their knowledge of and attitudes about grizzlies, what they believe would be the costs and benefits of having grizzlies here, and to what extent they support grizzly reintroduction. Our group is particularly interested in whether there are differences in knowledge or attitudes between the state’s urban and rural residents. California is the most urban state in the nation, with 95 percent of its nearly 40 million people living in cities. Yet, rural residents in a handful of communities would be more likely to feel the effects—both positive and negative—of a grizzly reintroduction effort.

Preliminary results suggest that differences among rural and urban constituencies are modest, and that Californians generally support the idea of reintroduction. Yet residents know little about the history or status of grizzlies in this state, or the complex issues that reintroduction presents. Around 75 percent of Californians, for example, aren’t aware that grizzlies do not currently exist in the wild here. We expect to publish a journal article based on these results in 2019.

Team members: Sarah E. Anderson, Elizabeth Hiroyasu, Chris Miljanich, Alex DeGolia

2. Historical Grizzly Diet in California

Grizzlies are omnivores. They eat fungi, insects, rodents, fish, and ungulates such as deer and elk. They also eat a variety of plants including berries, roots, nuts, and grasses. Grizzlies seek the most nutritious foods, but the kinds of foods available to them vary by location and season. Most research on grizzly diet and ecology in North America has focused on mountainous or boreal regions such as the Northern Rockies, British Columbia, and Alaska—places quite different from California.

When animals such as grizzlies (or humans) eat, the element that make up their foods leave traces in their body tissues. In this project, we are seeking to understand historical grizzly diets in California using a well-established scientific method called stable isotope analysis. Our goals are both to understand the historical ecology of grizzlies here and to provide information that will help us map potential future grizzly habitat in this state.

Team members: Alexis Mychajliw, Andrea Adams, Kevin Brown, Mark Page, Molly Hardesty-Moore, Peter Alagona, Scott Cooper, Zoe Welch

3. Mapping Potential Grizzly Habitat in California

Grizzly bears are wide-ranging creatures able to exploit diverse resources and live in a remarkable assortment of habitats, from rainforests to deserts, wherever people are willing to tolerate them. This project uses historical records, biological data, social data, geographic information systems, and population models to create maps of potential grizzly habitat in California.

We are attempting to answer three questions:
(1) Where in California does potential future grizzly habitat exist? (2) Is there enough of this habitat, with sufficient resources and connectivity, to support one or more viable populations? (3) Where are the hot spots within and around these potential habitat areas that present the greatest risk for conflict between grizzlies and people?

Team members: Ian McCullough, Kevin Brown, Elizabeth Forbes, Molly Hardesty-Moore, Robert Heilmayr, Elizabeth Hiroyasu, Lacey Hughey, Bruce Kendall

4. BearMap: A Historical Atlas of California Grizzlies

Wild grizzlies may not live in California today, but they left a rich historical record of their long presence in this state in the form of documents, biological specimens, artwork, place names, monuments, and mascots.

This project is bringing together these diverse forms of evidence to create an interactive digital atlas. Users will be able to search the atlas by time and place, locating historical grizzly observations and finding primary source materials documenting these animals' remarkable history. We are developing the databases to support the atlas, discussing possible formats with a San Francisco-based design firm, and raising funds that will enable us to develop an accessible and functional cutting-edge product.

Team members: Robert Heilmayr, Kevin Brown, Peter Alagona, Brian Tyrrell

5. Grizzly Ethics, Values, and Policy

In the spring of 2017, the California Grizzly Study Group teamed up with the Committee on Environmental Thought at the University of Colorado, Boulder, to examine ethical issues surrounding the proposed reintroduction of grizzlies and other species. Topics of study include human responsibilities to eradicated species, the prioritization of scarce conservation resources, the dangers to individual animals posed by population-level recovery programs, public safety and risk perception, the distribution of social costs and benefits associated with reintroduction proposals, and the relations between law and ethics in conservation. Our California and Colorado groups met in Santa Barbara for a workshop in October 2018, and plan to submit our first essay for publication in 2019.

Team members: Peter S. Alagona, Jennifer Martin, Benjamin Hale, Nicole Rehnberg, Cheyenne Coxon, Brian Tyrrell, Zoe Welch, Alexander Lee, Alex Jordan Hamilton, Lee Brann, Alexandra Laird, Lydia A. Lawhon

6. Defining the “Reintroduction Gap”

This project advances conservation theory by suggesting that species reintroduction efforts need not depend on recreating historical baseline conditions. Instead, we identify what we call a “reintroduction gap”: the conceptual distance between current social and ecological conditions and the conditions that would be necessary to successfully reintroduce grizzlies, or any other species, in vacant areas of their historic range. Over the past year, this paper took form and became a manuscript. We plan to submit a revised version in early 2019.

Team members: Ian McCullough, Elizabeth Forbes, Peter Alagona, Bruce Kendall, Sarah Anderson, Andrea Adams, Kevin Brown, Molly Hardesty-Moore, Scott Cooper, Zoe Welch, Elizabeth Hiroyasu, Chris Miljanich, Jolie Colby, Jennifer Martin, Sean Denny

7. Little Bruins: A Grizzly Bear Curriculum for California Kids

Californians are increasingly interested in the past, present, and future of grizzlies in their state, yet our research shows that they know little about these iconic animals. The California Grizzly Research Network is planning several education and outreach initiatives, and one of our most important audiences is children.

Beginning in the fall of 2017, this project is working with undergraduate students training for careers in environmental education to create a project-based curriculum on grizzly bear history, science, and conservation for two- to five-year-olds. We are beginning this process by developing a curriculum in Pre-K classes at the UCSB Children’s Center.

Team members: Jolie Colby, Kiana Baghaie

8. The Ecology of Reintroduction

Reintroducing grizzly bears would undoubtedly affect other species in California. What are the potential ecological impacts of reintroducing grizzlies, and how might their return affect other species of interest—such as mountain lions, bighorn sheep, and feral pigs—in the Golden State? This project seeks to answer these and other questions through a review of the vast literature on brown bear ecology. Our goal is help scientists and managers better understand the potential ecological repercussions of bringing back grizzlies, and develop testable hypothesis that could contribute to the management of these and other important wildlife species.

Team members: Sean Denny, Ian McCullough, Leigh Work, Molly Moore, Peter S. Alagona, William Ripple, Scott Cooper, Thomas Newsome, Alexis Mychajliw

9. Living with Grizzlies

Courtesy of (David Grubbs/The Associated Press).

In 2017 the California Grizzly Research Network joined a consortium of research teams from The Netherlands, United Kingdom, Finland, Brazil, and Tanzania to submit a proposal leveraging the humanities and humanistic social sciences to promote better conservation of large carnivores in these countries and the United States. In the spring of 2018, we received notice that this proposal will receive funding. For the Grizzly Network, this means that we will be able to hire a post-doctoral fellow for two years, beginning in early 2019, to conduct field-based social science research in rural California communities close to potential grizzly reintroduction sites.

Team members: Peter Alagona, Bruce Kendall, Sarah Anderson, Hillary Young, Jeff Hoelle, Beth Pratt-Bergstrom, post-doctoral fellow TBA

10. Same Species, Different Histories

As of 2018, around 17,000 brown bears (Ursus arctos) live in the European Union’s 28 member countries. The lower 48 U.S. states, by comparison, contain only around 1,700—or one-tenth—the number of brown bears as the E.U., despite having a third smaller human population, almost twice the land area, and much more space in undeveloped parks, wildernesses, and nature reserves.

In this paper, we will explain the order of magnitude difference between brown bear numbers in Europe and the United States by comparing this species’ population histories with its legal, cultural, and management histories in these two regions. We will then turn to a series of theories and debates in the literature—including the recent debate about the relative value of “land sharing” versus “land sparing” as a large carnivore conservation strategy—to illustrate the complexity of history and the kinds of errors that emerge when conservationists ignore the past. We plan to conclude by suggesting how to better integrate environmental history with conservation biology in a time of rapid change.

Team members: Peter Alagona, Anastasia Fedotova (Russian Academy of Sciences), and other authors to be named in early 2019

11. Missing Mascot: A California Grizzly Encounter

In the summer of 2018, Peter Alagona and Santa Barbara-based artist Ethan Turpin submitted a proposal requesting funding for a large-scale, moveable, immersive video art installation that would enable those who experience it to reimagine grizzlies in California landscapes. The installation would achieve this with a room-sized triptych of video screens, arranged in a U shape, playing videos of iconic California scenes with grizzly bears inserted in them. If funded, it would travel to museums, galleries, and other public spaces and events, and be accompanied by related educational materials and information about the network.

12. Coming soon: California grizzly genetics!

Check back in 2019 for more on the Grizzly Network’s newest developing project!