Scientists are hailing it as an ecological breakthrough. Wolf advocates are howling with joy. And the Internet is eagerly awaiting the next trail cam photos of the male and female wolves and their five pups, which have been found living within California's state lines for the first time in 91 years.
Hopes were raised that wolves would return to California back in December 2011 when a wolf named OR7 entered the state for a short stint before returning to Oregon. It was a sign that maybe wolves would reestablish a population.
Then earlier this year, trail cams picked up a lone wolf in Siskiyou County. California Department of Fish and Wildlife set up additional camera traps to see if more information could be found. One of those cameras captured photos of five pups, which are a few months old, and individual adults. The pack is now named the Shasta Pack.
“This news is exciting for California,” said Charlton H. Bonham, CDFW director. “We knew wolves would eventually return home to the state, and it appears now is the time.”
Luckily, for these wolves California has laid the groundwork for protecting any wolves that might return to the state.
"In June 2014, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to list gray wolves as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act," writes CDFW. "The gray wolf is also listed as endangered in California, under the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973. Gray wolves that enter California are therefore protected by the ESA making it illegal to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect wolves, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct in California."
The Los Angeles Times reports, "Wolves were afforded federal protections in 1973, after being hunted to near-extinction. Their presence in a now-urbanized West has been controversial and states have successfully petitioned to manage the animals, creating a sometimes confusing legal patchwork. Wolves do not have federal protection in Alaska, Idaho, Montana and parts of Utah, Oregon and Washington."
The return of wolves to California is being called remarkable. Their presence is significant because wolves, after being hunted to near extinction, still only occupy about 10 percent of their former range in the United States. “We were really excited if not amazed” at how rapidly wolves have reappeared in Northern California, Eric Loft, chief of the Wildlife Branch of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, told the Times.
California does not yet have a wolf management plan in place, though it's in the works. For now, it's enough to celebrate the fact that this small pack is back in the state.
When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone, they brought balance back to an ecosystem that was suffering without these vital apex predators. This new wolf pack may offer a similar benefit to the forests of Northern California.
However, wolves are of course controversial when it comes to livestock ranching and hunting. Though some hunters have shot wolves claiming to have mistaken them for coyotes, such a mix-up is unlikely here since the members of the Shasta Pack all have very dark coats.
In addition to trail cam footage, the CDFW is relying on public sightings of the wolves to keep track of them. The public can report wolf sightings on CDFW gray wolf website.
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