Wolves on the Move into California: Three Stories and a Request for Information

(Photo: Ashley Harrell/SFGATE)
More Wolves Return to California
Story in the San Fran Chron. I excerpted quite a bit because I thought the DNA tracing and migration patterns were interesting.

Four new packs of wolves have established themselves in California in the past five months, bringing the grand total to eight new wolf packs since 2015 — and counting.

The four packs, announced Wednesday by state wildlife officials, were documented in Tehama County in central Northern California, Lassen and Plumas counties in the northeastern part of the state, and Tulare County in the Central Valley southeast of Fresno.

The Tulare County sighting of an adult female and four offspring was the southernmost report of any wolf pack in California’s modern history, hundreds of miles from the usual spots wolves have settled.

The sightings, and especially the presence in Tulare County, suggest that California is becoming a more habitable environment for its endangered species of gray wolves, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Holy smokes, what fantastic progress we’re witnessing in wolf recovery in California,” Amaroq Weiss, a senior wolf advocate at the center, said in a news release. “The homecoming of wolves to California is an epic story of a resilient species we once tried to wipe from the face of the Earth.”

Though the gray wolf is native to California, the animal was hunted to extinction in the 1920s, the Chronicle reported. It is now illegal to intentionally kill any wolves in the state.

Some ranchers and rural residents, however, remain uneasy over the wolves’ expanded range.

In May, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife announced it had expanded its Wolf-Livestock Compensation Pilot Program, through which ranchers can apply for compensation due to wolf attacks, or seek money for deploying nonlethal deterrents to keep wolves away from livestock.

In March, wildlife officials captured photographs of three wolves in Tehama County from a trail camera on private land. Little is known about the wolves’ origin or full number, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The Plumas County pack includes at least two adults and two pups. The breeding adults for that pair have been identified through DNA testing as partial siblings from a double litter in 2020.

The Lassen County pack has a minimum of two adults and an unknown number of pups. According to genetic analysis, the male is not from a known California or Oregon pack, but the female is an offspring from the Whaleback Pack’s 2021 litter. The Whaleback Pack is a group of wolves that has been seen in Siskiyou County.

DNA testing from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife suggested the Tulare County pack had contained at least five individuals not previously known to live in California, baffling wildlife experts who wondered how the wolves had managed to travel so far down the state.

The adult female is believed to have come from California from southwest Oregon’s Rogue Pack, while her male breeding pair originated from the Lassen Pack’s 2020 double litter.

Genetic testing also suggested that the female of the pair is a descendant of the first documented wolf to enter the state since the animals were hunted off in the 1920s.

That wolf, known to wildlife officials as OR7, migrated to the state from Oregon in 2011 and later returned, but is presumed dead, the Chronicle reported. OR7 traveled through seven northeastern counties in California before returning to his home state of Oregon, finding a mate, and building his Rogue Pack, according to officials from the Center for Biological Diversity.

Since then, several of his offspring have come to California and established new packs, including the breeding female of the new Tulare County pack and the original breeding male of the Lassen Pack, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

LA Times, Wolves and.. Chad Hanson

The LA Times has this story.

In any case, gray wolves occupy a small part of their historic range. Scientists say a comprehensive recovery plan encouraging their return is crucial to returning ecological stability across thousands of square miles of still-wild habitat.

Among them was ecologist Chad Hanson, who, in an interview, said the wolf pack has become, of all things, the beneficiary of wildfires that jump-started new generations of nutritious grass and shrubs that attract deer they prey on.

“Higher ungulate abundance provides prey for wolves,” he said. “Logging reduces habitat for deer, adversely impacting endangered wolves.”

That kind of talk leaves some federal forest managers and timber industry advocates quietly seething.

One wonders whether the reporter might have asked federal forest managers and timber industry advocates.. if the reporter spoke with them I’d be curious as to what they had to say. “Hey, I’m seething” doesn’t sound much like any Forest Service public affairs response..

Another obvious question is openings created by logging reduce habitat, but openings created by fire increase habitat. I’d be interested in how that works.

In a recent letter, a group of environmentalists urged the U.S. Forest Service to suspend post-fire logging operations in the region until it can “determine whether any activities associated with those and other projects could adversely affect the wolves.”

That’s because the environmental reviews for the projects have not considered the impacts of hand crews with chainsaws, bulldozers and trucks on endangered gray wolves and wolf habitat.

Environmentalists say their presence is vital to restoring the rhythms of life among countless other animal and plant species that evolved with them.

The story didn’t mention exactly what groups, so I couldn’t find the letter. Perhaps someone from California has it?
“Restoring the rhythm of life?””countless plant and animal species that evolved with them.” I’m not so sure about plants evolving with wolves. Holism sounds great.. but as usual mention of Indigenous folks.. who’ve been around also adapting to the glaciers retreating with organisms presumably co-evolving with them, doesn’t show up in this formulation. Wikipedia had this as part of its entry on “balance of nature.”

Despite being discredited among ecologists, the theory is widely held to be true by the general public, conservationists and environmentalists,[5] with one author calling it an “enduring myth”.[8] Environmental and conservation organizations such as the WWF, Sierra Club and Canadian Wildlife Federation continue to promote the theory,[17][18][19] as do animal rights organizations such as PETA.[20

I like that the reporter characterized this as being a view of environmentalists, not scientists.

Ranchers and Wolves in Northern Cal Getting Along With the Aid of Technology

And here’s a great story about ranchers and wildlife folks working together that I found in the Red Bluff Daily News but was written by a reporter for SFGATE.

Since September, wolves in the Whaleback Pack have killed more than 20 cows and injured another half-dozen across Siskiyou County. It’s the highest concentration of attacks on livestock since wolves first returned to California in 2011. In fact, after 23 years of working with wolves across the United States, this is the first time Laudon can recall a single pack being linked to so many attacks.


Most of the calves targeted by the Whaleback Pack have been residents of Table Rock Ranch, a large cattle operation set squarely within wolf country. The ranch has been using many kinds of deterrents, including a watchman hired to drive around the range at night. But without knowing when wolves were nearby, it was a little like shooting in the dark.

Now, most mornings local ranchers get a text message letting them know the general locations of the two collared wolves. “I was optimistic that it would be helpful, as far as making our deterrents more effective, and being at the right place at the right time,” Table Rock Ranch manager Janna Gliatto told SFGATE.


But in Siskiyou County, “ranchers have been a model of patience,” Laudon said. California’s compensation program will soon begin compensating ranchers who implement deterrents. But that money has been a long time coming; Gliatto says she was promised reimbursement for the range rider months ago, but has yet to see a dime. Still, she’s hopeful that the new data from the collared wolves will help with another aspect of the program called “pay for presence,” where ranchers are reimbursed for the impacts of wolves simply being around, such as stress on the animals.

6 thoughts on “Wolves on the Move into California: Three Stories and a Request for Information”

  1. Deer have actually adapted very well to active logging projects. They certainly love to eat the moss that grows on the trees. After each work day, the deer come in, to eat the moss off the felled trees. It’s ‘funny’ how Hanson found his way into wolf issues. Are his donations running behind projections?

  2. anecdotally deer seem to love open areas, more to eat.

    I wonder what the wolves will eat though. Deer don’t provide much of a dinner, wolves seem to prefer bigger animals. CA has about 13,000 elk. It wouldn’t take many wolves to run out of elk at the 20 per year per wolf they experienced in Yellowstone. Might help with the feral pigs.

  3. Wolves are federally listed as endangered in California. The Forest Service must consult on projects where wolves are “present,” and they are supposed to ask that question of the Fish and Wildlife Service. The FWS current range map shows them only in northern California (https://ecos.fws.gov/ecp/species/4488#rangeInfo), but the official source is “Information for Planning and Consultation” (linked on the species profile webpage). If it is publicly known that wolves are present, that should trigger ESA consultation requirements (including for ongoing projects).

    • I would think it would be rather similar to the Pacific Fisher issue. The Sierra Nevada rules probably will cover any wolf issues. With no clearcuts and no old growth harvesting, that should satisfy any wolf ESA requirements. Surveying for wolves is probably ineffective.


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