This story is part of the Lee Enterprises series “Grizzlies and Us.” The project examines the many issues surrounding the uneasy coexistence of grizzly bears and humans in the Lower 48, which have come into focus in recent years as the federally–protected animal pushes farther into human-occupied areas. The 10-part series, comprised of more than 20 stories, was produced by outdoor reporters and photojournalists across the Rocky Mountain West.
For tens of thousands of years, likely as long as grizzly bears occupied North America, they have coexisted with humans.
Tribes ranging from the far northern tip of Alaska to central Mexico, the coast of California to the banks of the Missouri River, found ways to live alongside the massive omnivores.
That all ended with Europeans.
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The Spanish came first, pillaging their way up the California coast. Grizzly bears there numbered in the thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, feasting on rich coastal ecosystems, grasses, insects, berries, deer and nearly anything else edible.
Accounts from Spanish explorer Sabastian Vizcaino tell of “a group of bears feeding on a whale carcass” in 1602, according to naturalist and bear advocate Doug Peacock’s book “Grizzly Years.”
Extermination of the