California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Grizzly Island Wildlife Area - Area History

When the western reaches of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers blend with ocean tides, they form a great marsh - "the place of the west wind". "Suisun" was the name given to this marsh centuries ago by the Patwin Indians. Grizzly Island Wildlife Area lies in the heart of this sprawling wetland.

Long before gold and fertile soil called people with dreams west, it was a haven for wildlife. Millions of migratory waterfowl and birds wintered there. Its tule-lined ponds were a home for hundreds of wildlife species, including California's native tule elk and grizzly bear.

This began to change in 1850, when the U.S. Congress granted all such swamps, marshes and sloughs to the state of California, so they could be drained for cultivation. Natural tidal rhythms were permanently altered by levees and dikes constructed to prevent salt water from reaching cultivated land. Much of the area was carved into parcels and sold to private interests for farming.

From 1875 until 1950, this area that once nourished so much wildlife grew other things: dairy cattle, beans, grains, beets and asparagus. Small duck clubs were interspersed among the farms.

But local landowners, even with their labyrinth of channels, levees and sloughs, could not prevent the encroachment of salty water or the deterioration of constructed levees. In 1931, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) purchased a parcel known as Joice Island, naming it one of California's first wildlife refuges.

As other landowners became discouraged, duck clubs provided additional habitat for wildlife and both proliferated. In 1950, CDFW purchased an 8,600acre parcel near Joice Island. Called the Grizzly Island Unit, it nicely complemented the Joice Island refuge.

Some locals are convinced this unusual name came from the Mt. Diablo grizzly bears that used to swim across the bay to feast on the lush blackberries and rosehips on the island. Others insist the name is a corruption of the word "grisly", which was used to describe frightening things that occurred in this once-swampy, inhospitable place.

Today, there are neither grizzly bears nor grisly events at Grizzly Island Wildlife Area... but there is an opportunity to enjoy a rewarding wildlife experience just an hour from San Francisco or Sacramento.