California Grants Protected Status to Nonexistent Gray Wolf

Thursday, June 05, 2014
Gray wolf

There are no gray wolves in California, but the once plentiful predator is at the door and state officials just extended it a controversial welcome.

The California Fish and Game Commission voted 3-1 Wednesday to grant the gray wolf protected status under the California Endangered Species Act, despite opposition from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, which is working on a wolf management plan scheduled to debut in December.

The department recommended in February that endangered status not be granted amid arguments that you can’t protect an endangered species that no longer exists in the state.

Ranchers and others have argued vehemently against reintroducing the wolf to California, where the iconic Western predator once roamed in large numbers. The animal has been largely absent from the state since 1924, although a lone wolf, known as OR7, briefly wandered into Northern California from Oregon in 2011.

Gray wolves once had the run of the continent until they were exterminated in all of the 48 lower states except Minnesota in the 19th and 20th centuries. But they are making a comeback.

Sixty-six Canadian wolves were released into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in 1995 in an attempt to save the species. Some of them migrated to Oregon, where a couple dozen are tracked by researchers. OR7 was recently spotted there with two puppies he is believed to have fathered.

Talk of cute puppies, endangered species and iconic Western symbols does nothing to appease rural dwellers who fear the animal will devastate livestock and upset the ecosystem. “Wolves are beautiful animals,” Ventura County rancher Mike Williams told the Associated Press back in April. “But they’re also vicious, brutal and efficient killing machines and a threat to people, livestock and pets.”

Conservationists say the threat to livestock is minimal and that the wolves are actually very good for the ecosystem. In one instance, elks vacated lowlands and streams to avoid the wolves, allowing willow, aspen and cottonwood to grow back, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. That provided food for beavers, habitat for songbirds and shadier streams for fish. Intimidated coyotes left the area, giving safer haven to small rodents and providing a boon to hungry carnivores that fed upon them.   

That said, the federal agency took the gray wolf off the federal endangered list in the northern Rockies in 2011, removed protection in Wyoming in 2012 and began agitating to lift protections in the entire country last year. Their website called the wolf’s restoration in the northern Rocky Mountains “an amazing success.”

After the 2011 delisting, wildlife advocates say, 1,000 wolves were quickly trapped and shot in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.  

The California commission vote links the state to efforts in Oregon and Washington to protect the gray wolf.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Gray Wolf Wins Endangered Status in California (by Peter Fimrite, San Francisco Chronicle)

Gray Wolf Gains Endangered Species Protections in California (by Julie Cart, Los Angeles Times)

Feds Want to Lift Protection for Gray Wolf, Dimming Prospect of California Return (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

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