State officials apparently forgot to tell the wolves that there are no wolves in California.
Almost as if on cue, just as top state wildlife managers were assuring us last month there was no need to protect wolves in California simply because there were none here to protect, the state’s most famous wolf returned.
On Feb. 5, the very day California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials were making their final recommendation against awarding state protection to gray wolves, the wolf OR-7 crossed back into California for the second time in 2014.
The repeated return of the wolf who spent 15 months in California before wandering back into Oregon late last year – and who has now made California part of his range for each of the past four years – poses a serious challenge for officials spinning the state narrative on wolves.
With healthy wolf populations continuing to expand in neighboring Oregon in recent months, the reality on the ground confirms what scientists have long been telling us – wolves will return to California.
The question now is whether the California Fish & Game commissioners who have the final word on state wolf protections will follow the science or the politics when they make their ruling this spring.
Not listing the wolf would be to ignore the science and state precedent.
The commission protected the wolverine though none had been confirmed in the state for 50 years. It listed the Guadalupe fur seal, though this species was thought extirpated with only sporadic sightings of individuals at the time of listing. It continued to protect California condors knowing there were none in the wild.
Their decision on wolves should be informed by recent missteps on the federal level after a peer-review panel of national wolf experts revealed last month that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ignored the best available science in proposing to drop Endangered Species Act protections for most wolves in the lower 48 states even though wolves exist in only 5 percent of their historic range.
The unanimous conclusion of the legally required review – that the federal June 2013 wolf-delisting proposal misrepresents the most current science regarding wolf conservation and wolf taxonomy – poses a big scientific problem for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s national wolf-delisting proposal.
Or at least it should.
And that’s potentially good news, offering hope of continued federal protection that will help gray wolves recover in eastern states as well as states like California, Colorado and Utah where hundreds of thousands of acres of prime uninhabited wolf habitat remains.
But despite the overwhelming evidence of federal politics trumping science, there’s been no sign yet the Obama administration will face the facts and support ongoing Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in most states.
That leaves it up to the California Fish & Game Commission to decide whether it, too, will play politics with wolves. There’s no doubt that wolves will keep coming to California. Oregon wildlife managers announced in recent days that the state wolf population has more than tripled over the past three years to more than 60, with similar growth in Washington.
And just in the past two weeks, fresh wolf tracks have been confirmed on the eastern flank of Mount Hood – only the second time since wolves were reintroduced in the West that a wolf has reached the Oregon Cascades.
The first was OR-7.
California resident Amaroq Weiss, a biologist and former attorney who has been working to recover wolves in the West for 17 years, is West Coast Wolf Organizer for the Center for Biological Diversity. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.