2011-12-30 "Wolf's entry into Calif. major environmental step" by Peter Fimrite from "San Francisco Chronicle"
A lone gray wolf crossed the border into California and was on the move south of Klamath Falls on Thursday, becoming the first wild wolf in the state in almost a century.
The 2 1/2-year-old male wolf, known as OR7, was tracked using a GPS collar as it crossed the Oregon border, to the delight of conservationists and the horror of the many ranchers in the forested northern regions of California.
"Whether one is for it or against it, the entry of this lone wolf into California is an historic event and the result of much work by the wildlife agencies in the West," said Charlton H. Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Game. "If the gray wolf does establish a population in California, there will be much more work to do here."
The presence of the mythic predator in California is a major event for environmentalists, who would like to see the state's native predators and wildlife returned. But it could also influence environmental and ranching policies and gun laws if the large, potentially dangerous canine carnivores become prevalent in populated regions.
The young wolf, which left his pack in northeastern Oregon in September, was confirmed to be in Siskiyou County at about noon Wednesday. A signal from his radio collar at 6 a.m. Thursday showed that he was several miles south of the border.
Endangered species -
Wolves are listed in the state as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Nobody knows what OR7 will do next, but the presence of a wolf in California is alarming to ranchers, who are afraid recolonization could endanger their livestock.
"We do not welcome the wolf back in California," said Jack Hanson, a cattle rancher in Lassen County and the treasurer of the California Cattlemen's Association who hopes to work with game wardens to monitor and control the population. "We would like to put a big shield up and keep him out, no doubt. ... If there were no regulations, our family would shoot them on sight so that they did not multiply."
Patrick Valentino, who is on the board of the California Wolf Center, which is dedicated to the preservation of wild wolves, has a different view. "We need to reduce the emotional component about wolves and focus on both the science and conservation of wolves," he said. "The return of wolves should not be seen as an anti-ranching event. In fact, we should find ways to bring stakeholders together whether they are pro- or anti-wolf."
Mike Fris, the assistant regional director of ecological services for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific Southwest region, said wolves are a concern regarding livestock only when they are in packs. Domestic dogs are virtually identical genetically to wolves.
"A single wolf is more likely to be feeding on carcasses than livestock," he said. "He's the only wolf we know of in the state of California at the moment."
Experts believe that will inevitably change.
OR7 came from a pack in Wallowa County, Ore., one of four known wolf packs in the northeast corner of the state, bordering Idaho. The wolves would not be there at all if 66 Canadian wolves had not been released in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in the mid-1990s.
Hunted down -
The reintroduction campaign was necessary after bounty hunters and trappers - harboring largely erroneous myths about wolves as vicious man-eaters - drove them to extinction in the lower 48 states. The last wild wolf in California was trapped in Lassen County in 1924.
There is no doubt that gray wolves are fearsome predators. They are smart and work efficiently in packs, and the males can reach up to 115 pounds. But they've never been known to hunt humans. Most attacks have been attributed to rabies or starvation.
The gray wolf population has multiplied and spread out since being reintroduced. There are now more than 1,600 wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains. Congress delisted wolves in some areas this year, meaning ranchers can once again hunt the mysterious animals.
A lone wolf crossed into Oregon in 1999, becoming the first of the predators seen in the state in 60 years. The first wolf pack was confirmed in 2008. There are now at least two dozen wolves in the four Oregon packs, and they, too, have created controversy.
Pack members have killed 20 cows and calves over the past two years. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife killed two of the culprits and were planning to cull two other wolves before conservation groups filed a lawsuit.
700-mile wildland trek -
The California wolf, a 90-pound subadult that was tranquilized and collared in February, was already a minor sensation before he crossed the border. As most young males do, he left his pack three months ago. Since then, he has wandered over mountains, across highways, through forests and meandered about 700 miles back and forth across Oregon's wildlands.
OR7 has been near the California border for several weeks now, leading to a great deal of speculation among wildlife officials, ranchers and conservation groups, one of which is holding a contest to change the wolf's decidedly un-sexy name.
His presence, however, doesn't mean he will stay in California. In fact, experts said, he will have to wait a long time before a female wolf also discovers the Golden State.
"He's looking for a pack or other mates," Fris said. "If he stays in California, that most likely won't be fruitful for him."
Keeping them wild -
More about how to avoid human-wildlife interactions can be found on Department of Fish and Game's website at www.dfg.ca.gov/keepmewild.
The mother of California's first wild wolf in almost a century is seen in Wallowa County, Ore., in 2009. Her son crossed the border into California on Wednesday.
Credit: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife 2009