Another grey wolf has left the dangerous vigilante territory of Oregon and wandered into northern California! And unlike OR-25 documented last year, this wolf isn’t wearing a tracking collar so origin and other details aren’t fully known, nor is there 100 percent confirmation this is a wolf and not another wolf-like canid. California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) reported an animal documented by trail cameras from western Lassen County in March 2016 and again by a different trail camera in May. The newest lone wolf may be the wolf first photographed in August 2015 in Lassen County, and then again a few miles away in October.
Biologists aren’t certain this is a wolf and not a dog or wolf-dog hybrid (all genetically similar) but the behavior suggests lone wolf. A hair sample collected near the October trail cam site was analyzed but results were inconclusive. The sample’s DNA was of poor quality and insufficient to definitely determine the species. But because the animal has been seen four times in different areas from August 2015 through May 2016 and still appears healthy, he’s likely a wolf.
This newest lone wolf is not part of Shasta Pack, the breeding pack documented last spring with two adults and five pups and reported in California’s resident grey wolves (with pups!). If we count the newest visitor as a wolf, this makes a total of ten wolves in California, the other being OR-25 reported in California’s sexy new lone wolf.
The presence of packs and lone wolves who potentially could mate with one of the Shasta pack pups or other females to establish a breeding pack (or two) highlights the importance of CDFW’s wolf conservation management plan released in 2015, and the willing participation of stakeholders, especially ranchers.
Grey wolves were protected as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act in June 2014, a year before the Shasta Pack was found. They already were protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act. After the discovery of the Shasta Pack last summer, the state developed a Draft Conservation Plan for Grey Wolf Management that was released in December 2015 — just as OR-25 was wandering into the state.
Workshops to discuss the management plan with stakeholders are being held in the areas of California identified as potential wolf habitat: 1) the Klamath Mountains and portions of the Northern California Coast Ranges (northwestern CA); 2) the southern Cascades and portions of the Modoc Plateau and Warner Mountains (northcentral and northeastern CA); and 3) the Sierra Nevada. The Shasta Pack currently lives in the second area (southern Cascades).
Reports from the workshops suggest that ranchers are willing to learn how to co-exist with wolves (maybe).
At least to an extent, wolf and ranching advocates agreed on one thing during a Feb. 1 workshop on California’s proposed gray wolf management plan.
Both sides said their goal was for wolves to flourish without posing a threat to livestock.
Karin Vardaman, who leads a wolf recovery project for the California Wolf Center, said the organization wants to provide training and grants for ranchers to develop nonlethal tools for protecting their animals from the predators.
Since the time when wolves last roamed California, researchers have identified important actions and management practices that reduce the likelihood of predator-livestock interactions. The management plan outlines these measures. Participants at the workshops learn what is involved and how to actively discourage predation and protect their livestock (primarily cattle and sheep).
For ranchers, the wolf plan has taken on an added sense of urgency after California’s first suspected wolf depredation on a calf in Siskiyou County in late fall, when ranchers say they came upon five wolves feeding on a dead calf in a meadow. Fish and Wildlife classified the Nov. 10 incident as a “probable” depredation.
It’s time to step away from our historic “wild west” paradigm where ranchers rule, cattle are protected, and wild animals are killed. Enhanced insurance policies are available to ranchers to offset costs of livestock deaths due to predation. Organizations such as the California Wolf Center, Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), and People and Carnivores have researched methods, designed resources, and partnered with ranchers to help them co-exist with nature. For example, AWI programs certify that animal products from the ranches are “maintaining and enhancing wildlife habitat on their farms and ranches, and that they are employing a mix of proactive practices and careful observation to allow wildlife and livestock to coexist, and are able to quickly adapt their management practices in response to changing conditions.” This helps consumers identify products that don’t harm predators and gives a monetary incentive to producers.
The main tools the management plan and advocacy groups promote are explained on People and Carnivores’s website.
Each of these tools alone may not be sufficient but all are tested and when used consistently will significantly reduce predator risk. Here’s a video of a test on a fladry line, flags attached to fencing. In this video the fladry is around a cow carcass and a wolf is released.
Wolves and other predators are an important part of the ecosystem and not merely iconic symbols of our past. AWI notes that predators “maintain native plant communities by keeping large herbivore populations in check, contributing to the health of forests, streams, fisheries and other wildlife.” Ranches are also important to conservation of natural lands and can incorporate healthy habitat for wildlife. Some of the same practices found to deter predation are considered profitable by holistic range mangement proponents. Examples of these management practices already exist in California and are promoted by the 11th Hour Project’s Rancher-to-Rancher program.
Like many other wildlife species, wolves elicit a spectrum of responses from humans, ranging from unrealistic fear to equally unrealistic adoration and trust. But unlike the past, wolves need us now. They need ranchers and the public to take the sensible measures designed to reduce harm, and to consider wolves as important members of the natural environment. Living with wolves gives advice on how to live, work and enjoy outdoor activities in wolf country.