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New Oakland Murals Celebrate California’s Extinct Icon, The Grizzly Bear

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By Steven T. Jones

Grizzly bears went extinct in California in 1924, although the majestic grizzly still graces the state flag and seal. Now, California grizzlies are being painted into a series of murals in Oakland as part of a national campaign to save endangered species and reintroduce them to their former habitats.

The grizzly murals being painted this week by artists Roger Peet and Fernando Santos have been dubbed the “Laurel space bears” because of the galaxies depicted within their silhouettes and their locations in Oakland’s historic Laurel District (along MacArthur Boulevard at three locations between High Street and Patterson Avenue).

“When we lose wildlife, we lose a lot of what makes a place unique, and we lose our connection to history,” said Peet, who coordinated the project. “These murals represent the holes left in our landscapes when iconic species like the grizzly bear disappear. California is poised to reclaim that lost history by bringing grizzlies and other animals back to the state’s great wildlands.”

The Center for Biological Diversity, where I work, helped sponsor the murals and their unveiling party this Friday from 5-7 p.m. at Degrees Plato Tap Room Bottle Shop & Kitchen, 4251 MacArthur Blvd. in Oakland.

These are the latest of 14 endangered species murals around the country, including the yellow-billed cuckoo in Los Angeles, freshwater mussels in Knoxville, Tenn., and a jaguar in Tucson, Ariz., where the big cats have recently returned to the United States for the first time.

The symbolic return of grizzlies to California coincides with our Bring Back the Bears campaign urging state and federal officials to study how and where grizzlies might be reintroduced into remote California wildlands.

Apex predators like grizzlies and wolves help create healthy ecosystems, something scientists are rediscovering in Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, where grizzlies are thriving. But they still occupy less than 4 percent of their historic range in the lower 48 states and helping this endangered species recover will require expanding that range.

So join us and others from throughout th Bay Area this week as we contemplate the grizzly bear, its central role in California history and how we can create space for such iconic endangered species in the future.


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