State biologists confirm sighting near Oregon border
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Crossing more than 700 miles of rugged terrain a wolf from the northeastern corner of Oregon traveled into California’s Siskiyou County this week, marking the first time in more than 85 years that one of the predators has been documented in California.
The last confirmed wild gray wolf in California was killed in Lassen County in 1924.
“Whether one is for it or against it, the entry of this lone wolf into California is an historic event and result of much work by the wildlife agencies in the West,” said California Department of Fish and Game director Charlton H. Bonham. “If the gray wolf does establish a population in California, there will be much more work to do here.”
“The thrill of the howl of a lone wolf has returned to California after all these years — what a cause for celebration,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Studies show that wolves benefit many other wildlife species. Californians should be proud and excited that this day has finally arrived.”
The sighting of the 2.5-year-old male wolf, named OR-7, was confirmed by the California Department of Fish and Game. Under the Endangered Species Act, OR-7 and any other wolves that wander into California are protected.
California does not plan to re-introduce wolves, but the state wildlife agency has been tracking the recovery effort in nearby states with the expectation that at some point they will likely reach California.
Historic information on wolves in California suggests they were widely distributedbut not abundant. State biologists have been compiling historic records, life history information, reviewing studies on wolf populations in other western states, enhancing communication with other agencies and training biologists on field techniques specific to wolves.
This effort is to ensure that California has all necessary information available when needed, it is not a wolf management plan and DFG does not intend to reintroduce wolves into California.
Wolves thrived in much of California until they were extirpated from the state by hunters and trappers intent on eliminating the predators from the landscape. The wolves played an important role in the ecoystem, helping to keep populations of other animals in check.
Following reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, scientists documented that by forcing elk to move more and to choose different locations, wolves allowed streamside vegetation to grow, benefitting beavers and songbirds. Northern Rocky Mountains wolves, the very wolves from which OR-7 descends, have also had a dramatic impact on coyote populations, benefitting fox and pronghorn numbers.
“The key to restoring wolves in California is going to be tolerance by people, including ranchers,” said Greenwald. “Wolves are a very small cause of livestock losses and there are many proven methods for ranchers to avoid losing livestock to wolves.”
Although wolf restoration efforts in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes region have successful, wolves still only occupy a small part of their historic range and the existing suitable habitat in the lower 48 states.
The Center for Biological has a pending petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a nationwide recovery plan to return wolves to suitable habitat, including pockets of California.
“Wolves are resilient creatures who ask for just a little tolerance in order to survive and thrive,” Greenwald said. “OR-7’s arrival in California is an important and promising sign that there’s still plenty of good wolf habitat out there.”
There are more than 1,600 wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains following a federal reintroduction effort starting in the mid-1990s.
In 1999 a single wolf crossed into Oregon from Idaho, after nearly a 60-year absence in that state. There are now at least 24 wolves in Oregon in four reproducing packs. It has taken an additional 12 years for the first wolf to now reach the California border.
According to California wildlife biologists, this particular animal is exhibiting normal dispersal behavior for a young male and there is no way to predict whether he will stay in California, return to Oregon, or travel east into Nevada. Eventually, state officials expect other wolves will reach California. Whether this will lead to the establishment of packs or simply transient individual animals is unknown.
In a press release, the department described the recovery effort as controversial in other western states, especially with regard to impacts on prey populations, livestock depredation and human safety.
There have been instances where gray wolf predation has contributed to declines in deer and elk populations, however, in most cases, predation has had little effect. Some gray wolves have killed livestock — mostly cattle and sheep — while others rely entirely on wild prey. In other western states the impact of depredation on livestock has been small, less than predation by coyotes and mountain lions, although the effect on an individual livestock producer can be important, particularly when sheep are killed.
Concerns about human safety are largely based on folklore and are unsubstantiated in North America. In recent years there was one human mortality in Canada caused either by wolves or bears and one confirmed human mortality in Alaska by wolves. Based on experience from states where substantial wolf populations now exist, wolves pose little risk to humans.