Will cry of the wolf return to California?

A lone gray wolf in the prime of his life roams 730 miles to seek a mate and a new home, crossing nearly the entire state of Oregon in two months.

He skirts small towns, crosses numerous highways, surmounts the Cascade mountain range and pauses just 30 miles from California.

It sounds like the stuff of legend.

But this journey is very real, and it holds huge implications for California. If the wolf, known to Oregon officials as OR7, resumes its southbound trek it will make history as the first wild wolf confirmed in California in nearly 90 years.

The wanderings of OR7 are already stirring excitement, not to mention controversy.

Cattle and sheep ranchers in the state's northern counties are not among the celebrants. Some are watching OR7's travels with dread.

"We definitely have concerns," said Jack Hanson, a cattle rancher near Susanville and treasurer of the California Cattlemen's Association. "I'm hesitant to say I see a clear road and things will go well."

The California Department of Fish and Game, for more than a year, has quietly worked on a plan to prepare for the eventual return of wolves. It expects to release the plan in January.

"There's a very high probability, in the next few years, that a wolf will enter California," said Mark Stopher, who oversees the plan as a special assistant to the Fish and Game director.

"The wanderings of OR7 bring the urgency to a higher level," Stopher said. "He could be in Yreka in two days if he wanted to be."

Perhaps no other wild animal carries as much baggage as the wolf.

Centuries of human storytelling have portrayed the wolf as a conniving predator that targets people, from "Little Red Riding Hood" to a new movie coming in January, "The Grey," in which wolves hunt plane crash survivors.

Biologists say such stories are a gross distortion. There are only two cases in the past century of wolves killing people in North America, and even these are disputed. Death by grizzly bear, mountain lion – even deer, elk and moose – is far more common.

"Unfortunately, with wolves it seems many people can't distinguish between mythology and fact," Stone said.

Reintroduced wolves thriving

Wolves were eradicated across the West in the early 1900s by hunters and trappers who saw them as a threat to livestock.

The last wild wolf documented in California was killed by a trapper in 1924 in Trinity County. It had only three legs, having escaped a previous trapping attempt.

More recent thinking has revealed the important place of the wolf in Western ecosystems. Because they tend to prey on the weakest member of a deer or elk herd, for instance, wolves help keep those species stronger. They are also known to harass coyotes, which have become a significant pest in some rural areas.

The 1995 reintroduction of wolves to the Northern Rockies, led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, remains one of the most controversial undertakings in the history of the Endangered Species Act. The service transplanted 66 wolves from Canada to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho wilderness areas.

Ranchers feared cattle and sheep losses. Hunters worried that populations of elk, important prey for wolves, would be suppressed.

Fifteen years later, the transplants have grown to a population estimated at 1,651 wolves across six states. The population is so strong that wolves were removed from the endangered species list in most of their western range in October.

This July 9 trail camera image shows wolves from the Imnaha pack on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in northeastern Oregon. A 2-year-old wolf from this pack has become a celebrity since blazing a trail across Oregon in search of a mate and a new territory.

Responses to "A wolf wanders toward California"

  1. Anonymous says:

    all wolves should be left in peace, not hunted to near extinction :( i hate knowing that the hunts are on and quotas are given to hunt, i hate the fact they trap and shoot the wolves esp those that could be the alpha of the pack, LEAVE THEM ALONE

  2. Sheila Bounds says:

    They need to be left alone. Mankind is destroying this planet, NOT the wolves.

  3. jenni says:

    wolves are gods creatures,we are all one

  4. Little Feather says:

    I truly hope no one tries to harm these wolves. Wolves are not going to attack people....just because. No. They need to be left in peace. I would welcome their existance around me. If they come towards Northern California, it would be a blessing. And, one is, just looking for a mate. They are so beautiful. The gray one reminds me of one of two hybrid's I used to have. They are gorgeous.

  5. Mark says:

    Anyone have any ideas on how we can help this transition?

  6. Thanks for the story, I am from the Crater Lake area, I am Klamath Tribal member. I am happy to see that things are thriving up near the LAKE, It's our most SACRED Place of all. We are supposed to get a FREE Pass to go up there, HOW GRACIOUS of them? huh to let us visit our Own Property? WHAT A LAUGH. ANYWAYS Keep up the good stories I enjoy them alot, I wanted to go into FORESTRY WORK,( Not Cutting Trees) I mean WARDEN is more like what I meant?

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