Wolves return to California; welcome to the Shasta Pack
In December 2011, a gray wolf called OR-7 (named that because he’s the seventh gray wolf fitted with a tracking collar in Oregon) wandered into California. It was the first wolf sighting in this state for decades, as the wolf had been wiped out by hunting in the early 1920s. OR-7 made international news, and conservationists were absolutely thrilled with his arrival. OR-7 wandered back and forth between California and Oregon before eventually finding a mate in Oregon.
In 2012, the Center for Biological Diversity along with other conservation groups filed a petition with the California Fish and Game Commission to put wolves on the state endangered species list. They knew that wolves would eventually return to their historic range here and wanted an extra layer of protection for them when they did. They are already listed as endangered by the federal government. For over two years, at each Commission meeting, conservation groups, as well as the public were there to speak up for the wolves. The Commission received thousands of pro-wolf letters as well. There were those who were opposed, of course, but it became clear that the public overwhelmingly supported protecting wolves.
On the very day that the Commission voted to protect wolves, it was announced that OR-7, still in Oregon, had become a father and we got the first trail camera photos of the pups. You might expect this in a Hollywood film, but this was real life! The timing of the announcement was magical.
Scientists have learned so much about how valuable all predators are to the environment, and that was demonstrated when the wolf was re-introduced to Yellowstone in the 1990s.
Less than a year after the vote, a lone wolf in far Northern California was recorded on trail cameras in May, and again in July. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) put out additional cameras in the area, and in August multiple photos showed two adult wolves and five pups! California now has its first wolf pack in many decades. What great news! CDFW has named it the Shasta Pack. Charlton Bonham, director of CDFW said, “The news is exciting for California. We knew wolves would eventually return home to the state and it appears now is the time.”
Now that gray wolves are protected here, it is illegal to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect wolves, or to even attempt to do any of these things. While the majority of Californians are happy about this, there are those that are not. The CDFW has been closely monitoring the pack and has not yet determined whether or not to put tracking collars on any of them. They have also been in contact with all the residents of the area informing them about the wolves and their protections.
Now that the deer hunting season is open, the CDFW has been reminding hunters of the established wolf pack. Wolves can travel up to 30 miles a day, and could wander into the hunting zones. Hunters in other states have killed many wolves claiming that they thought they were coyotes. In California, you can kill a coyote 24/7 (we are working to change this!) The Shasta Pack appears to be all black, so you would expect any hunter could tell the difference, but… The CDFW has gone to great lengths to educate hunters on distinguishing between coyotes, wolves and dogs. There is already pressure on the Department to keep hunters out of any area where the wolves might be.
Wolves rarely pose a threat to human safety. We are not perceived by them as prey. Quite the opposite – we are their biggest, and deadliest, predator. If you are ever lucky to see one, the best thing is to not disturb it. Wildlife does best when left alone.
Sharon Ponsford is a a longtime volunteer with Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue and a former board member of the California Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators. She lives in Glen Ellen. If you have questions or would like to ask her about our local wildlife, please email her at email@example.com.