The Coastal Post - June 1999

Grizzly Bears in Marin?

By Josh Churchman

If you were to read that a pair of unwary hikers were attacked on Mt. Tamalpais today by one of the new grizzly bears that were reintroduced to this area by park rangers last week, would you be concerned?

There was a time not so many years ago, when grizzly bears, brown bears, wolves, and even a breed of panther lived in the hills of Marin. If the current trend of restoration were to continue on and on, in a few years it would not be beyond the range of possibility to see these predators return to the hills of Marin.

The great white shark is currently being reintroduced. There is a driving force to bring things back to "how it was" before man came on the scene, and the white shark is a part of this new experiment. The big difference between the grizzly and the white shark is that the grizzly population would be much easier to access. If the white shark population were to explode, who would see it? The impact on all of us would only be felt as the number of attacks increased.

The main prey of the white shark is seals or seal lions, and both of these marine mammals have been protected for 20 years. The population for both have increased at a dramatic rate in recent years. Five years ago the great white shark was also protected from predation by man. Basic biology shows that if a prey population increases and the predator is protected, the predators population will also increase.

A few months ago someone was bitten by a white shark while surfing off Stinson Beach. This was the first recorded incident of a white shark attack in Marin. Is this a "once in a lifetime" event or is it just the beginning?

The local fishermen in the area have seen an incredible number of "teenage" white sharks in the past few years, and these will no doubt grow up to be healthy adults. It doesn't take a big imagination to figure what might happen if the great white shark population were to triple. The real question might be how to control a booming shark population if all the beaches are no longer safe.

There would finally be parking spaces at Stinson Beach on the weekends. The surf would be uncrowded, the restaurants would be empty, it would be "how it was" before man messed everything up.

It seems only fair that if the white shark can come back, the grizzly bear should come back too. Then the trails of Marin could be as "natural" as the ocean is going to be.

This issue was brought to the attention of the Bolinas Lagoon Technical Advisory Committee at their last meeting and the chairperson said it was a "non-issue" and to take the matter up with the Department of Fish and Game. A representative of that agency was at the meeting and declined comment. I wonder how many attacks there will have to be before it is an issue worthy of discussion.

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