The arrival in California of the first confirmed wild wolf in nearly 90 years has marked the beginnings of what could be
a remarkable conservation success story — restoring a native species this state once drove to extinction. On December
28, 2011, a young male Oregon wolf known as OR-7 or “Journey” lifted a paw on the Oregon side of the border and set
it back down in California, making history and international headlines. He traveled throughout California’s seven
northernmost counties for 15 months in search of a mate, then returned to Oregon but continued to make multiple forays
back into California in each of the following years, clearly making that state part of his range. To the north of us, in just a
few year’s time, Oregon’s small, recovering wolf population has tripled, meaning even more wolves are likely to find their
way to California. And, in fact, they have.
In 2012, to protect OR-7 and any wolves who follow after him, the Center for Biological Diversity and allies filed a petition
to list the gray wolf under California’s Endangered Species Act, and on June 4, 2014, the California Fish
and Game Commission voted to fully protect wolves under state law. That very same date, Oregon agency officials
confirmed OR-7 had finally found a mate and that they had denned and had pups in the Oregon portion of the Rogue-
Siskiyou National Forest, which straddles the Oregon-California border. DNA analysis of OR-7’s mate’s scat shows that,
just like him, she is related to wolf packs in northeastern Oregon — he was born into the Imnaha pack in Oregon, and his mate is related
to both the Snake River and Minham packs there. It is possible that, like OR-7, she made a long-range dispersal across the
state before meeting up with him. Their wolf family has officially been named the Rogue pack, and they had their second
litter of pups in 2015.
Since OR-7’s historic venture to California, more wolves are starting to come to the state. In early 2015 Oregon agency
officials confirmed at least three other adult wolves traveling south of the Rogue pack’s territory, just to the north of the
California border. Then, in August 2015, California agency officials confirmed that a family of seven wolves — two adults
and five pups — were living in Siskiyou County. Their presence marks the first known wolf family in California in at least
100 years, and they have officially been named the Shasta pack. In January 2016, it was announced that another
Oregon wolf, OR-25, was in Modoc County in California. Both the breeding female of the Shasta pack and OR-25 are,
like OR-7, offspring from Oregon’s Imnaha pack.
Because of the likelihood of more wolves dispersing into California, in 2012 the California Department of Fish and Wildlife
convened a stakeholder working group to advise the Department in crafting a state plan for conserving and managing
wolves. Participants in those meetings included representatives from the Center and allies from other conservation groups,
agricultural organizations, sports-hunting groups, as well as agency staff. Because the gray wolf is now state-listed and
California’s Endangered Species Act requires the state to not only conserve and protect listed species, but also to restore
and enhance their populations, the Center has urged the Department to ensure its state wolf plan is a recovery plan, to
emphasize measures that will help restore wolves to suitable wolf habitat in the state and to develop programs for helping
prevent any conflicts between wolves and livestock.
After two years of discussions with the stakeholder group, and a year revising drafts of the wolf Plan, in December 2015
the Department released a draft California Wolf Plan for public comment. Based on our review of the draft Plan, the Center
will be recommending that significant revisions be made. We’re glad the draft plan emphasizes using nonlethal strategies
and tools to help ranchers coexist with wolves, and that it stresses the importance of outreach and education to the public.
However, the draft plan proposes to strip wolves of state protections when the population reaches only 50–75 wolves, would
seek legal authority to kill wolves for conflicts, and proposes killing more coyotes and bears and eventually wolves to conserve
populations of deer and elk even though habitat conditions are the primary factor in the health of wild ungulate herds. We will
continue to urge the Department that its wolf plan should reflect the recovery mandate of the state’s Endangered Species
Act, the best available science, the state’s obligation to conserve and manage wolves as a public trust, the overwhelming
support for the return of wolves from a vast majority of Californians, and the clear message that people can coexist with
this majestic and ecologically important species.
A public comment period for the California wolf plan is currently underway, with several public meetings to be held and
written comments due by February 15. Learn more about how to comment on the draft plan.