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Scrapbook: Richard Garcia: Bear Canister Inventor and Resilient Habitats Champion

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Sierra Club Scrapbook

September 27, 2011

Richard Garcia: Bear Canister Inventor and Resilient Habitats Champion

Richard Garcia If you ask Richard Garcia how he got so involved with the Sierra Club, he'll mention the bears.

"Bears are extremely smart, they're very adaptive, and that's what gets them in trouble," he says. "I've been trying to outsmart bears for nearly 30 years."

Richard is the inventor of the Garcia Bear Canister, which he designed in 1982 after rangers from Sequoia National Park -- where encounters with aggressive bears were on the rise -- tasked him with figuring a way visitors with food on them could safely roam the parks.

These days Richard is part of the Sierra Nevada Resilient Habitats campaign, where the focus is on saving delicate ecosystems and species that feel the heat of climate change –- such as the Pacific fisher, American marten, the Sierra Nevada red fox, and the pika, the local campaign's adopted mascot.

The pika "A lot of animals as it warms up are just going to move higher up the mountain," he says. "But for pikas, these guys are already up there."

Richard -- a grandfather of three is a former paratrooper, motorcycle racer, and deer hunter. He and his wife operate a precision machine shop outside Visalia, Calif. He's invented -- and manufactures -- several products, including machine tool accessories and laboratory equipment used in plant pathology.

Richard recalls his first few attempts at designing a bear-proof container. Rangers had taken his prototypes to the Fresno Zoo.

"They'd stuff them with sardines and give them to the grizzlies," Richard says. "The rangers would come back with broken pieces. I worked on three or four prototypes and they all failed. I kept working at it and finally designed one that worked."

When Richard found a successful design, he manufactured and shipped 100 to Alaska. Rangers in Delani National Park handed them to entering visitors. After only one season, the results were startling. Reports of nuisance bears dropped after they quickly learned that people weren't so easy anymore.

"It was a rewarding endeavor and we have saved a few bears," he says. "Rangers have told me that the backcountry is safer for both campers and bears."

He eventually placed an ad in SIERRA magazine for the container and then became a member. But Richard's involvement with the Club didn't really take off until 1999 when an irrigation company threatened to pull 300 old oak trees that lined up a nearby canal. During the fight to save the trees, he joined the Kern-Kaweah Chapter executive committee. At one point during the controversy, as described in this SIERRA magazine story, Garcia formed a "moving barricade that refused to allow district trucks and equipment to cross private property," according to the article. The protest ultimately led to a victory.

"It was a heck of a fight; we took our cause to the press, the courts, and the canal banks. I’m proud of the good relationships and alliances I was able to foster between the Farm Bureau and the Sierra Club," he says.

These days Garcia finds himself dealing with bears again. But his problem has more to do with how they're hunted in California -- namely the fact that they are poached and chased by packs of hunting dogs.

"California is one of the few that allows hunters to turn these dogs loose in our forests and chase bears for miles," says Richard, who chairs the Black Bear Task Force on the California Nevada Regional Conservation Committee. "There's a lot of cruelty involved for both the bears and the dogs."

Despite animal cruelty laws, hunters merely need a license. Garcia hopes existing laws will one day cover this loophole.

"There are laws against dog fighting and pitting animals against each other. But you can get a California hunting license and a bear tag and go into our national forests and turn your dogs loose," he says.

Richard Garcia with grandson Garcia admits that he's not an avid hiker, but he does get outside through his activism. Recently he joined other Sierra Clubbers at the site of the Temperance Flat dam proposal. He also will be helping others in pulling centuries-old barbed wire in an elk preserve near Soda Lake along the Carrizo Plain. Garcia looks back and appreciates all that he's done with the Sierra Club.

"I've been able to change some things, and I'm proud of the good relationships I have fostered between the Club and the local farming community," he says. "I appreciate the support that I get from my chapter and I enjoy the friendships and camaraderie of my local group. I think I bring a different perspective to the Club. I am a capitalist that operates a manufacturing company, I own a farm, and I was a hunter. Hopefully that background can help me be an effective liaison with business owners, farmers, and responsible hunting groups in achieving a better environment."

Learn more about the Sierra Club Resilient Habitats campaign.

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