First California gray wolf predation event in nearly 100 years recorded

Evidence that the gray wolf is making a return to California after almost 100 years of absence was recorded last month in Siskiyou County.

A report released by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife describes a predation event in the county where private land borders conifer forest. The 40-page report states that biologists were called Nov. 10 by a rancher in Siskiyou County after his employees saw five wolves feeding on a dead calf in a meadow. Upon returning 30 minutes later, ranch employees found only the hind legs of the calf. A cow carcass was also found.

The evidence gleaned from the calf carcass strongly suggests gray wolves, which are listed as endangered in California, were at play in the cattle deaths, said Jordan Traverso, a Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman.

If true, it would be significant, given that the gray wolf was extirpated in California in 1924.

The report stipulates it is “probable” that a gray wolf predation event took place with the dead calf. It is unclear whether the dead cow found was killed by the wolves since the cow had evidence of infection and may have already been dead when the wolves got to it, Traverso said.

During the investigation, which took place Nov. 11, the biologists played recordings of a pair of wolves, wolf pups and a rabbit to see if there would be any response. “When they played the howling recording they got multiple wolves howling back and also saw a wolf – so they knew the wolves were in the proximity,” Traverso said.

The wolf came within 100 yards, the report said. Three other wolves were photographed later. The agency chose not to disclose the ranch address or the ranch owner’s name. Possible gray wolf predation events are no rarity, but agency biologists typically find these to be caused by coyotes or mountain lions upon investigation. That determination is made by studying tracks and scat at the kill site, as well as how an animal was felled.

The predation event follows on the heels of forest camera footage in Siskiyou County that established that a wolf pack had entered the area last August. The footage showed a breeding pair of wolves and five pups approximately 4 months old. The wolves had black fur – a common trait in the gray wolf species.

Before that sighting, much attention was brought to the gray wolf in California with the appearance of a wolf dubbed “OR7” near the Oregon border. OR7’s arrival marked the state’s first confirmed wolf sighting since 1924. Unlike the wolf pack seen in August, OR7 is a collared wolf and closely tracked by biologists. After the sighting, biologists predicted it was only a matter of time before wolves became established in California.

Edward Ortiz: 916-321-1071, @edwardortiz