Debate over Lone Wolf’s Crossing into California

Posted by Stephanie Ulmer, Guest Blogger on April 5, 2012

Around New Year’s Day, OR7, a lone gray wolf from a pack in Oregon, crossed into Northern California, making him the first such wolf in California in nearly 90 years. Just recently he wandered back over the state line into Oregon. But officials tracking the wolf consider it a possibility that OR7 will continue to roam both states.  Fish and Game officials get daily downloads about the 2-year-old male wolf’s location via his radio collar, and OR7′s movement has become especially important now because California has been thrust into the debate about how to manage gray wolves.

According to a report from QUEST, environmentalists want to see an increased wolf population in the Golden State, while others do not consider OR7 a welcome visitor. OR7 spent most of his recent visit in Lassen County, and there wolf opposition is growing. This is in the face of several public hearings and meetings sponsored by Fish and Game officials to educate and alert the population about gray wolves. For example, when someone says they will shoot a wolf on site due to a perceived threat against livestock, a Fish and Game official warns them that the wolves are endangered and that if one is killed, it is a $100,000 fine or a year in jail, or both. But this is the classic exchange that has occurred since wolves were reintroduced in the West almost two decades ago. The QUEST report notes that “In states like Idaho and Montana, where wolf populations have rebounded, there’s been an all-out war. Ranchers and hunters say wolves kill too many livestock and elk. Environmentalists see the wolf as a key part of a healthy ecosystem.” Can a proper management plan be reached?

From the QUEST report:  

Wolves are currently protected in California under the federal Endangered Species Act, but several environmental groups are petitioning the state to protect them under California law as well. That would require the Department of Fish and Game to figure out how many wolves belong in California and how they’ll recover. The federal government is also considering whether to specially protect California wolves. Populations in Idaho, Montana and parts of Oregon and Washington have already been taken off the endangered species list but the agency has recommended removing protection for wolves in some of the remaining parts of the lower 48 states. California wolves may still be protected, however. Fish and Wildlife is considering whether to specially protect wolves in parts of Oregon, Washington and California. If so, the agency would consider writing a recovery plan for what would be known as the Pacific Northwest population. That decision is due by September 30th.

In January, the Los Angeles Times published an editorial that discussed the plight of the gray wolf and his arrival in California after a long absence. The editorial opined that “It’s time for California — one of the most environmentally progressive states in the nation — to think about how it will handle the return of a predator it hasn’t seen in the wild for close to 80 years.”  It went on to discuss that antipathy to the wolves in other Western states led to a “disturbing” act of Congress in 2011 to override the Endangered Species Act and undermine the wolves’ recovery by delisting them in Idaho and Montana, states that are more sparsely populated than California when more wolf run-ins are more likely to occur. “The two states promptly approved hunting of the wolves, which has already thinned the numbers of the Northern Rockies group by at least 150 (after it had reached 1,651 in 2010).” The Times proposed a possible solution to any livestock losses suffered by ranchers and farmers:  a compensation fund. This could even be modeled after a similar fund in place in Oregon, while also “encouraging nonlethal ways of discouraging wolves from preying on livestock.”

Is it really too much to ask to allow the wolves to recover and replenish their population? To restore the ecosystem? The Times summed it up best by writing that “What we can realistically hope for is that the wolf will reach healthy, self-sustaining numbers, and resume a place in the life of this state.” That should be the hope of all.