The fabled OR-7, the gray wolf that ignited Californians' imaginations in 2011 and 2012 when he wandered through the state for 15 months, stopped by for a quick visit over the weekend, then headed back into Oregon. That's according to California's Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), which is tracking the animal when it ventures into the state.
The wolf's weekend jaunt through Siskiyou County on December 7 is the second short sojourn he's made into California since ending his 15-month visit in March. He made a brief visit in April as well. But December's visit underscores the likelihood that OR-7 sees the far northern reaches of California as part of his range.
The weekend visit adds to pressure on CDFW to list the gray wolf as Endangered under the California Endangered Species Act, to make sure that OR-7 -- and other wolves that may wander into the state -- are protected in case the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service succeeds in depriving the gray wolf of federal protection.
USFWS is currently considering the possibility of removing gray wolves from protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, a prospect that has outraged wildlife protection activists nationwide. Public comments on delisting the wolf are being accepted until December 17.
The federal wolf delisting process has been in the works for a number of years, prompted by pressure from the ranching and agricultural industry and marked by striking political interference in the science of wolf recovery. As we reported in October, CDFW is considering giving the gray wolf state protection, but had used OR-7's presence in the state as its justification for taking action. Some have feared that the wolf's leaving the state would put the listing process on the back burner.
OR-7's Siskiyou County visit this month can only help those advocates.
"As sure as anything in nature, more wolves will be crossing the line into California," said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). "Anyone who says wolves don't need state protection because there are no wolves here today isn't facing up to the scientific reality: Wolves are coming."
CBD petitioned CDFW to grant endangered species protections to wolves in February 2012, when the agency was named the California Department of Fish and Game.
"Wolves, who are blissfully unaware of the lines on our maps, will keep coming back to California, where they once roamed freely," added Weiss. "It's our duty to keep them safe when they cross that invisible line."