Wolf Pack Returns to California for the First Time in Nearly 100 Years
The sighting of a lone gray wolf in northern California’s Siskiyou County earlier this summer was just the start of something bigger—a wolf pack, wildlife officials said Thursday.
Motion-sensitive cameras set up by California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials captured photos of two adult wolves and five pups in August, marking the first time a pack has been confirmed in the state since gray wolves were eradicated in the 1920s.
“We have every reason to believe that the wolf spotted in May and again in July could be one of these adults, and that these adults are linked to the wolf pups,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson Matt Baun.
While OR-7, a gray wolf whose journey from Oregon to California and back again in 2011 captured national headlines, the formation of a pack—dubbed the Shasta Pack by wildlife officials—could be even more important for the reestablishment of wolves to the state.
The migration of the wolf pack south from Oregon shows the resiliency of the species and the success of reintroduction and recovery efforts by federal, state, private, and conservation groups, said Baun.
“The presence of a whole pack in California affirms that wolves know there is suitable habitat in the state and are ready to use it,” said Pamela Flick, California representative for advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife.
The wolves’ timing couldn’t be better. The California Fish and Game Commission recently voted to add gray wolves to the state’s endangered species list, making it illegal to hunt, trap, harm, or harass the iconic predators. The move comes as Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho strip gray wolves of protections and the federal government mulls a similar move.
While the exact location of the new pack is being kept under wraps, Baun said officials have alerted nearby ranchers and landowners that the animals could be on their property.
“They’re not collared, and wolves move around quite a bit, so we want people in the area to be notified there are wolves around,” Baun said.
The arrival of the wolves will mean changes to the state's upcoming Wolf Managment Plan—aimed at providing guidelines to wolf reintroduction in the state, and establish population goals for the species.
The draft plan is to be released by the end of this year, says California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Jordan Traverso, but will have to take into account that wolves are already in the state.
“These recent developments must be reflected in the plan when it goes public to more accurately portray the current status of wolf reestablishment on California,” Traverso said in an email.
Flick said she sees the wolves’ return to California as a chance for the species to reestablish itself in habitat where it once roamed.
“We have been given a second chance to restore this iconic species to a landscape that they had been missing from for nearly a century,” Flick said. “We must seize this opportunity to forge new partnerships to help wolves live in harmony with people and livestock in California.”