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 California 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.
In 2012, to protect OR-7 and any wolves who follow after him, the Center for Biological Diversity and allies filed a petition with the state 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 and she is related to both the Snake River and Minham packs. It is possible that, like OR-7, she made a long-range dispersal across the state before meeting up with him.
But they aren’t the only wolves that may come to California. In early 2015 agency officials confirmed that two more adult wolves — which the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is confident are mates — have been seen in territory a little further south of the Rogue pack, just north of the California border. In addition, a third adult wolf has been confirmed to be traveling with this pair. This pair of wolves could also venture into California to make it part of their range; so, too, could OR-7’s pups, once they’re old enough to disperse from their pack to seek mates and territory of their own. A future with wolves in it is highly likely to be part of California’s destiny.
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, in spring of 2015 the Department will release a draft California Wolf Plan for public comment, at which time the public can submit written comments and attend several public meetings. The Department shared an initial draft with the stakeholder group to get more input before finalizing the draft it will share with the public. Based on our review of this initial draft, the Center has recommended significant revisions be made. We 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.
Please stay tuned for the anticipated release of the draft California Wolf Plan and public comment period in the early spring of 2015. When the Department makes the draft plan available for public review, we will notify you here and provide links so you may read the draft plan yourself. We will also provide you with our analysis of the key issues on which your comments will be needed, to help protect and recover wolves in the Golden State.