Wolves become a hot topic in California when a gray wolf, OR7, crossed into the state from Oregon in late December.
ABOVE AND BELOW: An Alaskan wolf (a subspecies of the gray wolf) at the California Wolf Center in San Diego. Courtesy of Tony Norton and Kent Struble/California Wolf Center
OR7 is the first wild wolf to reside in California in nearly 88 years.
He separated from his pack and had been traipsing around Southern Oregon before walking into Siskiyou County on Dec. 28. He returned to Oregon on March 7.
His migration into California caused a stir among people excited for the potential return of wolves to California and those fearful of the deterioration of livestock.
The Friends of Del Norte invited Amaroq Weiss, the Northern California representative for the California Wolf Center in San Diego, to discuss OR7 and gray wolves in general.
Weiss will give a presentation to students at Crescent Elk Middle School during the day Friday and then for the public at College of the Redwoods-Del Norte that evening.
“I’ll be talking about a range of wolf-related topics,” Weiss told the Triplicate. “There’s great interest. This is a great opportunity to tap into that public interest.”
Different views on wolves can depend on a person’s culture, Weiss said. European settlers brought their fear of wolves to America, she said, while American Indians tend to revere the creatures.
The wolf is a keystone species in the eco-system, she said. Evidence shows that habitats declined greatly after wolves were wiped out of an area — Yellowstone National Park, for example — as big game populations grew without a predator, adversely affecting vegetation.
A radio collar has been tracking where OR7 is by GPS. His name indicates he was the seventh wolf in Oregon to receive a radio collar.
OR7 walked through the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, over to Modoc National Forest between the Lava Beds and Medicine Lake and down to Grasshopper Valley in Lassen County, according to the California Department of Fish and Game.
The last confirmed wolf in California was killed in 1924, also in Lassen County, Weiss said.
DFG has a map of OR7’s journey at http://www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/nongame/wolf.
There have been no confirmed sightings of OR7, but a hunter’s trail camera captured what is believed to be the wolf in Southern Oregon.
OR7 was born into the Imnaha pack in Northeastern Oregon in 2009. These wolves migrated into Oregon from Idaho after wolves were re-introduced to Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s. He dispersed from the pack and made his way to the southern Cascades.
According to DFG: “The dispersal of younger individuals from a pack is common. Dispersing wolves generally attempt to join other packs, carve out new territories within occupied habitat, or form their own pack in unoccupied habitat.” Other members of the Imnaha pack have also dispersed and its numbers have dwindled.
To read more about OR-7 go to http://www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/
Wolves were hunted nearly to extinction in the early 20th century. Once they were re-introduced into areas they once lived and populations grew plentiful in the Great Lakes and the Northern Rockies over to Oregon, ecosystems have become more healthy, Weiss said.
Some hunters actually prefer having wolves around, as deer and elk herds are more healthy with their natural predator in place, she said.
Ranchers are concerned for their livestock, which have been attacked by wolves, but losses are minimal, Weiss said.
OR7’s pack in Wallowa County, Oregon has been known to kill livestock to the point that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife killed two of its members and proposed killing two more, including the alpha male, according to the California DFG. OR7 likely participated in these kills, but since he was collared in 2011 has not killed any livestock, according to the DFG.
Gray wolves are listed as an endangered species by the federal government, but in the Great Lakes and Northern Rocky regions they have been delisted due to successful recovery efforts.
California never listed gray wolves as an endangered species, as Oregon did, but nonetheless, it’s illegal to kill a wolf unless human life is directly threatened.
And that’s unlikely to happen, Weiss said.
“We have to figure how to do this together,” she said. “We all share the planet and we share the planet with the wolf.”
Just because OR7 crossed over into California doesn’t mean that more will migrate here as well and form packs right way, Weiss said. When the first wolf came over to Oregon from Idaho in 1999, there were only a few more wolf sightings through 2007. Now, there are four packs.
“It’s going to take some time for more wolves and packs to form,” she said.
The part of Northern California OR7 was traversing is considered ideal habitat for wolves, Weiss said.
“Others could make their way,” she said.
Wildlife officials are examining the possibility of establishing recovery areas in Washington, Oregon and California as wolves are making their way into those states, Weiss said. Both Washington and Oregon have management plans for wolves as packs have established residency.
There are currently no plans to reintroduce wolves into California, but “DFG wildlife managers anticipated that wolves would eventually enter California, and have been preparing for it,” according to the DFG.
Before that happens, it would have to be determined if reintroduction is feasibly under the Endangered Species Act and whether it’s in the public’s interest, if there’s sufficient habitat and prey, and who would pay the costs of management, according to the DFG.
Wolves have historically lived in California. Research shows that the Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion and Modoc Plateau area could support 190-470 wolves, Weiss said.
The California Wolf Center is a non-profit conservation, education and research center established in 1977 near San Diego. The center focuses the biology, behavior and ecology of wolves and has a pack of Alaskan wolves (a subspecies of gray wolves) at its site. It has also helped to prevent the Mexican gray wolf from becoming extinct and aided recovery efforts in the Southwest.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Lonesome Wolf: The Life and Times of OR-7”
WHEN: Friday, 7–8:30 p.m.
WHERE: College of the Redwoods-Del Norte, rooms 34–36