State officials say they strongly suspect a new wild wolf is roaming Siskiyou County, more than a year after OR-7, California’s famous wandering wolf, headed back to Oregon.
OR-7’s arrival to California in late 2011 – the first confirmed wolf sighting in California since 1924 – spurred state officials to add endangered species protections for wolves, a move cheered by wolf-restoration advocates and condemned by some deer and elk hunters and livestock producers.
The suspected arrival of another wolf prompted similar responses Monday, even as state officials said these sorts of wolf sightings are almost certain to become much more common in the Golden State.
“I think that wolves in California is an inevitability,” said Jordan Traverso, spokeswoman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “It’s historic habitat for wolves. It’s suitable habitat for wolves.”
Earlier this year, state wildlife officials began getting “compelling” reports of a large, dark wolflike animal in southeastern Siskiyou County. The sightings prompted CDFW to begin installing motion-operated trail cameras in the area.
In early May, CDFW got photos of what appeared to be a large, dark-colored lone wolf. Biologists found droppings in the area that they tested for DNA, but the results were inconclusive.
No other sightings were reported. That changed in June, when biologists studying deer fawns came across huge canine tracks in another remote Siskiyou County forest. The paw prints were so fresh, they had been made inside the tire tracks from a CDFW vehicle that had driven down the dirt road the day before. Traverso says the area is U.S. Forest Service and private timberland east of Mount Shasta.
Biologists set out a camera to monitor the road.
Late last month, biologists downloaded a series of images from the camera that showed a dark-colored canine similar to the one photographed in May. The canine in the photos was much larger and with darker fur than common coyotes, and biologists say it’s unlikely to be someone’s pet.
Biologists have put out more cameras in the area and will hunt for scat in the hopes of getting DNA evidence to officially determine whether the animal is a gray wolf.
If it does prove to be one, CDFW insists it’s not OR-7. That wolf hasn’t been in the state for more than a year and is back in the Rogue Pack in southern Oregon. Officials can say this with certainty because OR-7 has a radio collar that can be tracked by satellite on a daily basis.
This newly arrived suspected wolf doesn’t have a collar, so it’s going to be much more difficult to track, Traverso said.
If it does prove to be a wolf, biologists say it likely wandered into California from a pack in Oregon in the same way OR-7 did. Grey wolves can wander hundreds of miles in their search to find new packs and mates and carve out new territories.
Gray wolves are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. Last summer, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to list gray wolves as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act.
Because of these protections, it’s illegal to harass or kill wolves in California.
“It’s critical they have as many legal protections as possible,” said Amaroq Weiss, a West Coast wolf organizer for the Center for Biological Diversity, which advocated for the change in status in California. “We know wherever wolves show up, there are some people who hate them. The vast majority of Californians are excited to have wolves back.”
Weiss said the wolf’s arrival couldn’t have come at a better time because state officials are soon expected to release for public comment a wolf-management plan, which she hopes includes a framework for a California recovery.
Brandon Fawaz, president of the Siskiyou County Farm Bureau, had the opposite response.
“We don’t want to see the wolf population established here,” he said. “We find it kind of ironic that some states such as Idaho allow people to go hunt them, and in California we’re going to try to protect them and reintroduce them.”
Traverso said state officials have no plans to reintroduce wolves, but that there’s no effort to stop their natural movements into the state from areas in which they’ve become established.