A lawsuit filed Tuesday by a conservative legal foundation on behalf of California farmers and ranchers alleges a state commission illegally listed gray wolves as an endangered species.
The Pacific Legal Foundation filed suit in San Diego County Superior Court alleging that the state Fish and Game Commission arbitrarily listed wolves as endangered in 2014.
The suit alleges it’s not known whether the wolves that entered the state are the same subspecies originally native to California, that the commission failed to perform a population analysis of the species’ natural range and that there aren’t enough wolves in California “to establish that the wolf’s range extends to the state.”
The suit was filed on behalf of the California Farm Bureau Federation and the California Cattlemen’s Association, groups that opposed listing the wolves as endangered. The groups say they are worried that if wolf populations are allowed to grow unchecked, the predators will attack their livestock; they advocate for lethal control of wolves in certain circumstances.
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Department of Fish and Wildlife officials also initially opposed listing the wolves as endangered, saying they wanted to keep lethal management as an option. The Fish and Game Commission – an independent body appointed by the governor that sets rules for the department – disagreed. Commissioners voted 3-1 in 2014 to grant the wolves endangered species protections, siding with environmentalists and animal-rights activists.
Jordan Traverso, a spokeswoman for the wildlife agency and the commission, said she couldn’t comment on the lawsuit because the state hadn’t yet been served with it.
“That said, we are still very encouraged about wolves returning to California, which we all know is historic wolf habitat,” she said in an email. “We find it to be a great ecological story for the state but, of course, understand that their return has been and will continue to be met with mixed emotion.”
Amaroq Weiss, who advocates on behalf of wolves for the Center for Biological Diversity, the group that petitioned to have the wolves listed as endangered, described the arguments in the suit as specious.
She said there’s genetic evidence that the wolves that have begun to repopulate California are related to the ones that once lived in the state before they were exterminated around the beginning of the 20th century. She also noted that the commission has listed animals as endangered – even when there were none here – most notably the northern wolverine in 1970s.
“All the science pointed to listing,” she said. “All of the legal language and requirements pointed to listing.”
A radio-collared gray wolf, dubbed OR7, generated international interest when he became the first wild wolf in nearly a century to venture into Northern California. His arrival in 2011 from Oregon prompted state wildlife officials to grant wolves endangered species protections.
There have been scattered reports of other wolves entering the northeastern corner of the state. Most recently, state officials said last fall that two wolves, likely a breeding pair, appear to have been living in Lassen County since late 2015.
Wildlife officials said the Lassen pair didn’t appear to have pups. California’s first wolf family, two adults with five pups dubbed the Shasta pack, settled in Siskiyou County in 2015.
A group of ranchers said they saw members of the Shasta pack eating a calf carcass in November 2015. State officials classified the incident as a “probable” wolf kill. State and federal officials, nonetheless, note that livestock predation is rare and attacks on people even less likely.