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In Rural California, Lone Wolf Not So Welcome

| March 5, 2012
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OR7, the lone gray wolf from a pack in Oregon, crossed back into his home state last Thursday after two months of wandering in Northern California. OR7’s trek made him the first wolf in California in almost 90 years. Officials say it’s possible the wolf will continue to travel both states. (Update Mar 5: Apparently so. California Fish and Game reports today that OR7 has crossed back into California.)

A wolf track in the snow. Tanya Dronoff/Dept of Fish and Game

With OR7’s arrival, California has been thrown into a national debate about how to manage wolves. Environmentalists want to see a wolf population restored in the state. For others, OR7 is not a welcome visitor. In Lassen County, where OR7 has spent the bulk of his time, wolf opposition is heating up.

“If it’s killing my cattle, I’m gonna kill it.”

At a recent county board of supervisors meeting in Susanville, a town in the state’s rural northeast corner, Fish and Game biologist Karen Kovacs takes the podium. “What we’re here today to do is just to share what we know about wolves in California,” she says to the crowd.

Kovacs’ agency gets daily downloads about the two-year-old male wolf’s location through its radio collar. “Are there other wolves in California? That’s a $64 million dollar question,” she says.

If there’s one thing Kovacs has learned since OR7 arrived, it’s that wolves make people emotional. For several weeks, Kovacs and other wildlife officials have attended a number of public meetings about California’s wolf. In the state’s northern counties, the reaction has been vocal.

“The protection afforded something that doesn’t belong here in the first place doesn’t make any sense,” says Susanville resident Len Grizwold. Says another resident: “Be cautious, folks. They’re here to tell you there’s nothing to worry about.”

The reception from county supervisor and rancher Bob Pyle isn’t any warmer. “I really don’t care what it is. If it’s killing my cattle, I’m gonna kill it,” he says.

“Any wolf in California is considered endangered,” responds Susan Moore of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. “And if you should take it, kill it, it is a $100,000 fine or a year in jail, or both.”

If it’s killing my cattle, I’m gonna kill it.

This dichotomy of sentiment has followed wolves from the moment they were reintroduced in the West almost 20 years ago. In states like Idaho and Montana, where wolf populations have rebounded, an all-out war has broken out between ranchers and hunters, who say wolves kill too many livestock and elk, and environmentalists, who see the animals as a key part of a healthy ecosystem.

With OR7’s arrival, that debate has come to California.

On the Wolf’s Trail

In a quiet pine forest outside of Susanville, Kovacs and Fish and Game biologist Richard Callas walk through a light layer of snow. OR7 crossed a major highway nearby a few weeks ago, not far from where California’s last wolf was trapped and killed in 1924.

“The way we find his tracks is because they’re pretty darn big,” says Kovacs.

Click to see a larger map of where OR7 has traveled.

For the wolf’s protection, his exact location is kept secret. But once he leaves an area, Kovacs and Callas descend to see what he’s been eating. “We know that OR7 has fed on two deer. We don’t know if he killed them or scavenged them,” Callas says.

Life isn’t easy for a wolf on his own. But there’s a reason OR7 has traveled 2,000 miles since he left his pack in Oregon last September. “His love life hasn’t been much to brag about lately,” Callas says. “But he’s certainly looking for a mate.”

In other states, it’s taken about 10 years for a pack to get established after the first wolf showed up. But biologists aren’t sure how successful wolves will be here. “Our elk population is smaller than some state like Montana, Colorado and Wyoming. Our deer numbers were lower than they were,” Callas says.

Since Oregon’s wolf packs live hundreds of miles from the border, it could be some time before another wolf wanders this way. But for the Department of Fish and Game, that may not matter. Groups on both sides are calling for some kind of plan to manage wolves.

“There are entities out there who are ready to litigate at the drop of a hat,” says Kovacs. “Can we get those stakeholders here in California to the table to collectively meet to move forward?”

Local Ranchers Concerned

On a cold morning at Willow Creek Ranch outside of Susanville, Jack Hanson is getting ready to feed 300 hungry cattle. A few weeks ago, OR7 wasn’t far from here. “About 17 or 18 miles as the crow flies,” says Hanson.

OR7 wandered close to Willow Creek Ranch outside of Susanville.

Hanson says it’s not OR7 that’s he’s worried about. It’s that wolf populations could grow. In other states, some ranchers are trying out tools to deter wolves, like special fencing and loud noises. Some even get text messages when wolves are close.

Most ranchers see wolves as one more thing to deal with in an already tough industry, says Hanson. Still, he wants to be part of the discussion. “We’ll be able to have a dialogue with agencies. I don’t think it will ever come to exactly where we want it, which is not to have them back in the first place.”

State and Federal Protections

Wolves are currently protected in California under the federal Endangered Species Act, but several environmental groups are petitioning the state to protect them under California law as well. That would require the Department of Fish and Game to figure out how many wolves belong in California and how they’ll recover.

The federal government is also considering whether to specially protect California wolves. Populations in Idaho, Montana and parts of Oregon and Washington have already been taken off the endangered species list, but this week the agency recommended removing protection for wolves in some of the remaining parts of the lower 48 states.

California wolves may still be protected, however. Fish and Wildlife is considering whether to specially protect wolves in parts of Oregon, Washington and California. If so, the agency would consider writing a recovery plan for what would be known as the Pacific Northwest population. That decision is due by September 30th.

“We don’t see California as being essential to the recovery of wolves. It’s not prime wolf habitat,” says Dan Ashe, director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. “But certainly, wolves will move hopefully in the future and will find some hospitable territory in California. Some may establish themselves there, but hopefully they’ll be well-managed under state law.”

Weathering the Debate

The question is: Can California avoid the battles that other states have seen?

“No, I don’t think so,” says Ed Bangs, the recently retired Wolf Recovery Coordinator at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He’s been in the middle of the Western wolf debate for two decades.

“You have to remember wolves and wolf management has nothing to do with reality. I mean we can give you facts, you know all this biology stuff. That isn’t what people talk about. They’re talking about what wolves mean to them symbolically.”

But he thinks that debate isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “Imagine if it was the way it was before when no one cared at all about natural resources or wildlife? Apathy is a lot worse.”

Just 30 years ago, there were only a handful of gray wolves in the West. Today, there are more than 1,600.

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Category: Environment

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About the Author ()

Lauren is a radio reporter covering environment, water, and energy for KQED Science. As part of her day job, she has scaled Sierra Nevada peaks, run from charging elephant seals, and desperately tried to get her sea legs - all in pursuit of good radio. Her work has appeared on Marketplace, Living on Earth, and NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered. You can find her on Twitter at @lesommer. Reach Lauren Sommer at lsommer@kqed.org.
  • Angela Nash

    OR7 is a cattle killing machine.  He was supposed to be killed for chronic predation according to the Oregon Wolf Plan but wasn’t.  He killed 2 of our calves and more. His litter mate OR9 was recently killed in Idaho near a feed lot.  These wolves have a taste for cattle.  It’s a bad, bad deal.  I cannot understand why people are celebrating this wolf.  We have LOTS of evidence of what this guy is capable of. 

    Ed Bangs, hmmm.  Idaho is now infested w/wolves.  There were supposed to be 100 or 10 breeding pair.  I think there are 1600 in Idaho alone.  Now the wolves are trapped, poisoned, arial gunned anything to bring down the population.  Terrible.  I think the people who “LOVE” these wolves are the ones responsible for ALL the loss of life-wildlife, cattle and wolves.  They should have been left alone and people should not try to play God.  Very arrogant and this has backfired in WY, MO, ID, OR and now CA.  Wolves are extremely intelligent and very difficult to manage.  According to Fish & Game people they are like “chasing shadows”.  No fooling.  Bad idea. Please be careful.  Sorry from OR.

  • Anonymous

    Haze that mutt back to Idaho….we’ll solve your wondering wolf problem. If you people let this thing back into your state, you’re nuts. Just take a few minutes and look at the facts of what Ed’s dog has done to Idaho.  That man should be paying restitution out of his government welfare retirement fund.

    Take a look at Ed’s falsified EIS he used to dump wolves on Idaho with, his denial of the diseases that now INFEST Idaho, his claims of 100 wolves, his now proven wrong impacts on wildlife. Only a weatherman could be so consistently wrong as Ed was and still retain their jobs. This mans position as an ‘expert’ is laughable.

  • Bruce Hemming

    Same old crap of lies from the Federal thugs if you hurt the FAKE ENDANGERED YUKON wolves you are going to jail cause we all know in todays American a worthless disease spreading predator is more important then working Americans. The whole fraud is sickening from the devastion of Americans losing their business to wolves either wiping out their stock or game herds and the hunters stop coming. It’;s hard to believe anyone is dumb enough to want wolves in their state. If you hate working Americans, if you hate hunters, if you hate ranchers if you hate seeing wildlife. Then wolves are for you.

  • Ryan Henson

    I wish OR7 all the luck in the world. I look forward to the day when CA has a self-sustaining population of wild wolves. We should establish a fund to compensate ranchers for proven incidents of predation on cattle. This is our second chance to spare CA wolves. I want us to get it right this time, unlike 80 years ago when we mercilessly extirpated them from the state.

    • Angela Nash

      Ryan, it’s easy to fantasize about wanting wolves but EVERYTHING was way different 80 years ago.  Think about it.  They are so smart and difficult to manage.  It’s a mess for us and them.  Like Scott said I really worry about people in CA due to the large homeless populations as well.  Scary. 

    • KAOR

       CA is broke. Where are you going to get the funds from? BTW just passing out a check for animals killed by wolves doesn’t bring your top notch breeding stock back. You just can’t go to the local store and pick up another one the way you buy your steaks and Hamburger. CA is a beautiful state not only full of cattle but high prized horses, Alpacas, small livestock and pets. Guess what… Wolves kill them, too. Try and give a check to one of your thoroughbred breeders who’s race horse just got killed. Yeah right…

    • KAOR

      If you like how life was 80 years ago, try living the way they did 80 years ago. There was a reason why wolves where killed 80 years ago. When families had to life off ONE milk cow, one or two cattle for beef. Losing your livestock to wolves mean starving. Who would you have chosen 80 years ago? Your food, or glorify the wolf.
      Did you know that Natives protected and still protect their livestock from predators that includes wolves? Did you know that Natives hunt wolves, kill wolves, to protect their own when necessary? Talk to people who are affected by wolves instead of subscribing blindly to Non-Profit newsletters with a link to your Credit Card.
      More than 90 percent of cattle ranches in the US today are “Family” owned. Ranchers can’t afford to just “give away” their livelihood to un-managed predators if they want to stay in business. You can’t replace cattle or other livestock with a check. The animals are gone.
      If you want to get it right, support the people in CA who produce your food. Listen to wolf biologists who have not been paid by a government agency of non-profit. Talk to native tribe in Colville, WA, who have already said that they WILL manage wolves, even if it means managing them with lethal force.
      First the wolves, then wolverines, then “whatever it takes” under the umbrella of the ESA to destroy rural America. Destroy farm & Ag, since groceries grow in the box at the store, and meat from China and 3rd world countries that couldn’t care less about food safety will be just fine…
      Where does your food come from? Ah, I remember… It grows in the back
      room of your local grocery store where no animals are hurt…

    • Anonymous

      Ryan put your money where your mouth is. You want the mutts you pay for them you pay for all the livestock killed you pay for all the dogs slaughtered in front of children, you pay for every single deer and elk the wolves slaughter. Whole hunting zone have been closed down why because the useless wolves kill 365 days a year and sports kill our wildlife to extinction. If you hate wildlife you well just love wolves. So man up Ryan and put your money where your mouth is. I have list of people that have been forced out of business are you going to pay them for your pipe dream?

      • Ryan Henson

        Bruce–I would spend my own money for that purpose. I refuse to believe that we have to choose between a healthy predator population and a healthy livestock industry, or between wolves and other forms of wildlife. 

        • Anonymous

          Ok Ryan time to man up I have rancher in NM forced out of business by wolves you owe him $100,000.00 when are you going to send him a check? You have no clue what you talking about. The wolves are the worst wildlife disaster in the last 100 years. Now you want the list of Guides forced out of business in Montana? You going to pay them a living wage since the wolves wipe out the game herd and force them out of business? You refuse to grow up and face reality is what you really saying. You want the wolves you pay for them. So when can I tell the rancher to look for your check?

  • Anonymous

    One sure fire way to ensure hardship, and endure a lifetime of loses, is to listen to Ed Bangs. He is the single most hated man in the West. He orchestrated a Federal attack on rural America. He threw science out the window, and ensured Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming wildlife would be decimated, and our cattle producers would endure heavy losses. Ed Bangs is a liar, and he should be in jail for the pain he has caused Idaho, and Montana. 

    My suggestion to those of you in the area this wolf is roaming, is to do whatever possible to stop the non native Yukon wolf from ever infecting your state. California hasn’t the wildlife buffer the other states had, and humans will bare the brunt of the impacts. 

  • Angela Nash

    Ryan, it’s easy to fantasize about wanting wolves but EVERYTHING was way different 80 years ago.  Think about it.  They are so smart and difficult to manage.  It’s a mess for us and them.  Like Scott said I really worry about people in CA due to the large homeless populations as well.  Scary. 

  • Anonymous

    Visit Lifewithwolves.org

  • KAOR

     OR-7 went back to Oregon as of March 1, 2012. Interesting… he has served his purpose to get the protection machinery going. Center of Biological Diversity has filed a petition to protect wolves in CA with the help of ONE wolf, OR-7. If they get it, you can count on truck loads of wolves all of a sudden appearing out of the blue. It only takes one wolf, one wolverine, one [what is next] to destroy rural America under the umbrella of the ESA.

  • tunnelman

    Last year in Idaho, between January and October, a total of 68 cows were taken by wolves.  (Figure taken from Fish and Game) This is from a total of an estimated 2.2 million heads of cattle in the whole state. This talk of blood-thirsty monster is just not backed up by facts. Sure, they kill cows, sheep… but so do dogs, bears, coyotes, bobcats… Do you want to wipe them all out too?
    The decision to have wolves back in their native habitat and to therefore restore our ecosystems back to the way God had planned it is ALL of ours to make. 
    Those in livestock have a stake, but so does everyone else. It is mostly public lands we’re talking about here anyway….

    • KAOR

       All but ONE livestock predation by wolves in the State of Oregon happened on PRIVATE LAND!!! And the same goes for other states. Public land predation is like a fart in the wind. Dogs, mules, horses don’t get killed on public land. They get killed on private land.
      How the heck to you bring God into this equation?

      God didn’t plan on livestock producers being threatened with violence, arson and murder to accomplish ridding this country of farm & Ag. 
      God didn’t plan on people like you only reading Non-profit newsletter with credit cards attached to it.
      And God certainly didn’t plan on letting one creature eliminate the majority of all others for political agendas and lies. Have you ever read the Bible? READ Genesis!

      And BTW the NATURAL HABITAT OF WOLVES IS EVERYWHERE IN THE UNITED STATES! Urban, rural, everything. Of course, I don’t know where you are from, but why don’t you start moving somewhere else now, since you too, life in the natural habitat of wolves. Take down urban concrete landscapes move into the woods or life in a cave.

      Your statistics are so out wacko its ridiculous. This is about every single individual farming and ranching businesses. Not about a collaborate number of 2.2 million head of cattle. More than 90 percent of all ranches in the United States are family owned. Every loss creates a loss to an individual breeder and livestock producer who work more for a living 24/7 12 month a year that the rest of the country producing your food. 

      Would it be ok to say, just because there are millions of cars available at car dealerships in the US its ok to steal a couple thousands?

      Ranchers don’t hate wolves, and neither do they want to eradicate the species. They are fed up being told by people who can’t even remember where their food comes from how to run their business. They are fed up with a government that puts them down as 2nd class citizens. And they are fed up being trampled on by people who have no background, no experience, and no clue what it takes to raise livestock… the food for this Nation and the world.

      We have lived with other predators and losses to such. The loses are minimal in comparison with the devastation wolves are causing. But then you wouldn’t know that. You conveniently just recite numbers. Have you ever worked on a farm/ranch? Do you know what it actually means to produce your food? Hands on experience beats any PhD and Non-Profit bought off study…

      Where does your food come from? Ah, yeah, out of the back room where no animals are hurt. Star Trek replicators, I believe.

    • KAOR

      God didn’t order this man made wolf disaster either:

      Jim Hayden, IDFG’s regional wildlife manager, said there are a few reasons they’re proposing no antlerless season.
      First, numbers are dwindling due to poor calf recruitment and assumed higher cow mortality.
      There’s been “a little bit of nervousness” about the St. Joe area for a while.
      “Do we want to be safe on the elk side of things,” Hayden said, “or do we want to wait a little longer? … Things aren’t in the toilet yet, but do we want to wait?”
      Growing portions of Units 4 and 4A are showing signs of declines that are projected to continue into next year.
      Calf ratios upriver in Unit 4 are about half what is needed to sustain a population under any cow harvest scenario.
      The bright spot of the elk dilemma is that tag sales are increasing, and there’s been an upward trend in the last 20 years.
      Many members of the audience felt wolves are to blame for the low numbers, and a majority of the comment period involved questioning Hayden about the predators.
      There are between 130 and 260 wolves in the Idaho Panhandle during the pre-season, he said, though exact numbers are hard to determine. Hunter-caused mortality takes out about 29 percent, but because of natural deaths, unreported kills and wolf-on-wolf attacks, the actual mortality rate is more like 50 percent.
      Legally, the state needs to have 150. As of Monday, 32 had been harvested by firearm and 35 by trapping.
      Hayden said the average wolf kills between 16 and 20 other wildlife animals per year.
      Part of the proposal is to increase the bag limit to five wolves per season.
      He said they want to remove restrictions from the most effectivehunters.
      “There’s no reason to keep them from taking more,” he said. Wolf hunting season in the Panhandle will be from July 1 to March 31 on private land, and Aug. 30 to March 31 on public land. Trapping is from Nov. 15 to March 31, but Units 2 and 3 are closed.
      Tony McDermott, chairman of Idaho’s Fish and Game Commission, said he has spent last five years researching wolves daily — he’s heard it all and read everything he could find about the hot topic.
      “We’ve got a belly full of wolves,” he said. “We’ve got a problem.”
      When the wolves were reintroduced, they didn’t understand how big of an impact there would be. If they did, the wolf situation would have been handled differently.
      McDermott said they didn’t raise elk herd to feed them to the wolves.
      The idea of putting a bounty on them is not going to happen, he said, because it will cause too much controversy — Idaho’s wolf management system is already twice as aggressive as Montana’s, and environmentalists are watching.
      “I can tell you that our Fish and Game department understands the problem,” he said. “There’s not a single sportsman in Idaho that doesn’t have it figured out.”
      Another meeting for public input will be at 7 p.m. Friday at the Coeur d’Alene Resort.
      Source: http://www.shoshonenewspress.com/news/article_d1f261fc-67b5-11e1-a8f6-0019bb2963f4.html