Wolves in California?
They are on the way – and will be protected!
The Gray Wolf is a native species in California, and was once widely distributed in this state. That all ended in the 1920s after a successful government-sponsored wolf eradication program, brought on largely by cattle ranchers, trapped and killed the last known wolf in 1924. Hated by ranchers, and feared by many due to myths, fairy tales and misinformation, wolves have a bad reputation. Since 1924, there have been no wolves in California – until recently.
Science started to catch up with the myths, as well as the ranchers, when early conservationists began to discover what Mother Nature knew all along: predators play a key role in maintaining a healthy environment. The conservationists began drawing our attention to the value of the wolf, and the environmental movement of the 60s and 70s further increased our knowledge and gained public support for wolves.
As wolves have been reintroduced in the West, scientists have known that they would eventually make their way to California. In December of 2011, wolf lovers got a Christmas present in the form of a young male gray wolf which entered California from Oregon. The wolf, now officially known as OR-7, generated news on local, statewide, national and international levels. A wolf in California for the first time in 90 years was big news!
OR-7 was looking for a mate. He wandered back and forth between California and Oregon, and those of us who knew there were no wolves here felt sorry for the guy.
Since that time, the Departments of Fish and Wildlife in both Oregon and California have been tracking OR-7. This spring, OR-7 made headlines again, as he was seen in the company of another wolf, presumably a female. There was hope that a new pack would soon be started.
In the meantime, knowing that it was just a question of when, not if, wolves would be returning to our state, environmental groups have been working to get wolves protected by listing them on the California Endangered Species Act.
California is a conservation-minded state, and never was that shown more boldly than last June 4, when the California Fish and Wildlife Commission voted to list Gray Wolves under the California Endangered Species Act. Commission President Michael Sutton stated: “No species is more iconic in the American West than the Gray Wolf. We owe it to them to do everything we can to help them recolonize their historic range in our state.” Hallelujah!! I’m so happy to live in a state that appreciates wildlife.
Just a few hours before the historic vote took place, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed that OR-7 and his mate had produced a litter of pups. With wolves now protected in Washington, Oregon and California, I am relieved to know that OR-7 and his new pack will be welcomed here.
Gray wolves pose little direct risk to humans. Like most wildlife, they would rather avoid us. Ranchers will now have to think about protecting their livestock. There are many non-lethal ways to protect livestock these days. Poisoning, trapping, shooting are all unnecessary, as we look ahead to sharing our planet with these iconic animals rather than removing what is inconvenient to some and revered by many.
Wolves in Kenwood? Yes!! One thing I look forward to every year is our very own Wine Country Film Festival. This year, on Sept. 18 at the beautiful Deerfield Ranch Winery, the feature film will be Druid Peak, a story about a wolf biologist and his son. I’ve had a sneak peek at the award-winning film and can report that it is very good. Amaroq Weiss, a wolf expert with The Center for Biological Diversity, will give a talk about wolves before the film. Our local sound wizard, Bernie Krause, will provide some recordings he made of wolves. Knowing both Amaroq and Bernie, it should all make for a wonderful, magical event. Amaroq Weiss speaks at 7 p.m., Druid Peak starts at dusk.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.