Californians howl over wolf's arrival


Capital Press

January 11, 2012

YREKA, Calif. - The arrival of the first known gray wolf into California in more than 80 years is causing a veritable panic among farmers and other residents here.

The state Department of Fish and Game has received a flood of purported wolf sightings around the state - reports that turn out to be wolf-dog hybrids or coyotes, said Karen Kovacs, a DFG regional wildlife biologist.

Ranchers and others jammed a Board of Supervisors meeting room here Jan. 10 to express misgivings about the potential arrival of packs of wolves, which are predators that can attack livestock.

"I am concerned because this wolf came from a pack that has a female with a predilection for calves," Siskiyou County Supervisor Jim Cook told Fish and Game officials during a board workshop. "Suppose we get a no-snow year again next year and we get a few more wolves?"

All the consternation is over the Dec. 28 arrival of OR-7, a 2-year-old, male gray wolf that had traveled from its pack in northeastern Oregon looking for a mate. The wolf has a tracking device installed by an Oregon state biologist last spring.

The wolf, which has wandered into eastern Shasta County, is the first documented wild wolf in California since 1924, when the last documented gray wolf was killed in Lassen County, said Amaroq Weiss, Northern California representative of the California Wolf Center. A wolf found dead in Northern California in 1963 turned out to have been domesticated, she said.

The arrival of OR-7 has thrilled conservationists but has alarmed local officials, including in Siskiyou County, which passed a resolution in 2001 opposing the reintroduction of wolves and grizzlies into the wild. County Supervisor Marcia Armstrong told the Los Angeles Times last month that she'd like to see wolves "shot on sight."

The county isn't "anti-wolf," insisted Ric Costales, its natural resources policy specialist.

"Our objection to wolves is the inability of the (resource) departments to properly or adequately manage these animals" because of a lack of funding, he said.

Many farmers want to take matters into their own hands. California Farm Bureau Federation members passed a resolution last month urging that ranchers be given permits to kill wolves that are attacking their livestock, noted Rex Houghton, president of the Siskiyou County Farm Bureau.

"Siskiyou County ranchers are concerned about the livestock that would be killed if wolves settled here," Houghton told supervisors Jan. 10.

However, wolves in most places including California are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, warned Erin Williams of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency is reconsidering their status in Oregon and Northern California, but there's no timetable for changing it, she said.

"There's no allowance for killing a wolf preying upon livestock," Williams said. "There is an allowance if it is threatening life and limb to humans."

In 2011, 20 head of cattle in Oregon were killed by wolves, said Mark Stopher, a Fish and Game environmental program manager in charge of developing California's plans regarding wolves.

Stopher assured workshop attendees the DFG has no plans to reintroduce wolves into the state, although it expected them to come here eventually.

"I don't think we thought it would happen at this moment," he said.

It's hard to know when California will get a pack of its own, considering that it took 10 years for packs to settle in Oregon despite a large population in Idaho, Stopher said.

In the meantime, Fish and Game is giving daily reports to affected counties as to OR-7's whereabouts and has set up a website to educate the public about the wolf, he said. The site includes information about how to distinguish between wolves and other animals.

In any case, Stopher isn't optimistic about OR-7's future. He suspects the animal to be accidentally killed on a highway or injured while trying to take a larger animal, he said.

"It's important for people to know that the probable fate of this animal is death," he said, "not forming its own wolf pack."


California Department of Fish and Game wolf website: