The California grizzly bear (Ursus arctos californicus ) is an extinct population or subspecies of the brown bear, generally known (together with other North American brown bear populations) as the grizzly bear. "Grizzly" could have meant "grizzled" – that is, with golden and grey tips of the hair – or "fear-inspiring" (as a phonetic spelling of "grisly"). Nonetheless, after careful study, naturalist George Ord formally classified it in 1815 – not for its hair, but for its character – as Ursus horribilis ("terrifying bear"). Genetically, North American brown bears are closely related; in size and coloring, the California grizzly bear was much like the Kodiak bear of the southern coast of Alaska. In California, it was particularly admired for its beauty, size, and strength. The grizzly became a symbol of the Bear Flag Republic, a moniker that was attached to the short-lived attempt by a group of U.S. settlers to break away from Mexico in 1846. Later, this rebel flag became the basis for the state flag of California, and then California was known as the "Bear State."
The California grizzly bear is one of the state's most visible and enduring symbols, adorning both the state flag and seal. The Bear Flag first flew in 1846 as a symbol of the short-lived California Republic. A second version was adopted as the state flag by the state legislature in 1911. The bear symbol became a permanent part of the state seal in 1849. The California grizzly bear was designated the official state animal in 1953. The bear is celebrated in name and as mascot of the sports teams of the University of California, Berkeley (the California Golden Bears), and of the University of California, Los Angeles (the UCLA Bruins) and in the mascot of University of California, Riverside (Scottie the Bear, dressed in a Highland kilt). The California Maritime Academy operates a training ship named Golden Bear.
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Prior to Spanish settlement in the second half of the 1700s, it is estimated that 10,000 grizzly bears inhabited what is modern-day California. It is thought that the bears lived across almost the entirety of the state, save its most southeastern and northeastern corners. Probably the southernmost records for this subspecies are from the Sierra de Juárez, during the 18th century. The bears ate a diverse diet from California’s varied climates, ranging from plant sources like grasses, seeds, and berries, and acorns, to animal sources such as deer, salmon, steelhead, and carrion – including beached whale carcasses.
California still has habitat that can sustain about 500 grizzlies. In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received and rejected a petition to reintroduce grizzly bears to California. In 2015, the Center for Biological Diversity launched a petition aimed at the California state legislature to reintroduce the grizzly bear to the state. The California grizzly bear has been considered as a possible candidate for attempts at de-extinction, through the proposed use of back-breeding, cloning and genetic engineering to recreate extinct species.