Conservation activists say sighting confirms need for endangered species protection
FRISCO — Wildlife biologists in California say another gray wolf has likely wandered into the far northeastern corner of the state. Based on an evaluation of photos and paw print measurements, the animal may be a lone dispersing male looking for new territory to occupy.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has deployed motion-sensor cameras and biologists will try to collect scat for a DNA sample to conclusively establish whether the observed canid is indeed a wolf. The sighting was in Siskiyou County, in an area comprised of both U.S. Forest Service holdings and private timberland.
Wildlife advocates said the CDFW report simply underscores what biologists already know — that there’s plenty of good habitat for the species to reestablish a population, to the benefit of the entire ecosystem. Wolves are native to California, but were extirpated by the 1920s.
The first wolf in nearly a century to make California part of its range was OR-7, a radio-collared wolf from Oregon that entered California in late 2011. OR-7 ranged across seven northeastern counties in California before returning to southwestern Oregon, where he found a mate and has had two litters of pups in 2014 and 2015.
“This is very exciting news,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Wolves are proving what scientists have said all along — that California has great habitat for wolves.”
After OR-7 visited California, activists petitioned the state to fully protect wolves under California’s state endangered species act. In June 2014 the California Fish and Game Commission voted in favor of the petition, making it illegal to intentionally kill any wolves that enter the state. In 2012 the California Department of Fish and Wildlife convened a citizen stakeholder group to help the agency develop a state wolf plan for California, and the agency is expected to release its draft plan for public comment shortly.
“With the potential confirmation of another wolf in California, it is all the more critical that the state wolf plan provide the management strategies that will best recover and conserve these magnificent animals,” said Weiss. “While it’s exciting to most Californians that wolves are returning, there are those who hate wolves and these animals will need all the protections they can get to successfully reestablish here.”
Biologists believe that if the animal photographed on the trail camera is a wolf, then like OR7 in 2011, it is probably an animal that has dispersed from a pack in Oregon. Dispersing wolves generally attempt to join other packs, find a mate and carve out new territories within occupied habitat or form their own pack in unoccupied habitat.
This situation is unique from OR7’s presence in the state, however, because this animal does not have a radio collar. OR7 was collared with a radio and satellite transmitter by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in early 2011. The satellite portion of his collar provided daily information about his location for several years, including the time he spent in California.
CDFW does not have the same information about the canid captured on the trail cameras because it does not have a radio collar. To glean additional information about the animal, CDFW must rely on photographic evidence, tracks and hopefully confirmation from scat samples.
CDFW also relies on help from the public to determine if and where wolves may occur in California. The public can report wolf sightings on the CDFW gray wolf website at www.wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Mammals/Gray-Wolf/Sighting-Report.
Gray wolves are listed as endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). In June 2014, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to list gray wolves as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act. Because of these protections, take is prohibited. The Federal ESA defines “take” as “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.”
As part of its efforts to help the public learn more about wolves and wolf recovery, the Center and co-hosting organizations will be screening a documentary about wolf OR-7 and regional wolf recovery on Aug. 26 in Santa Rosa, with a question-and-answer session conducted by Weiss and the film’s director immediately following the film. A September screening will be held in Berkeley. Tickets for the Santa Rosa screening can be purchased here.