California Panel Votes to List Gray Wolves as Endangered

Who's your daddy? OR-7, probably. Wolf cubs in southern Oregon
Who's your daddy? OR-7, probably. Wolf cubs in southern Oregon | Photo: Courtesy USFWS

It's a big day for gray wolves that might deign to visit California: the species has just been listed as Endangered under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA), and there may be half a dozen wolf cubs in southern Oregon waiting to take advantage of that new legal protection once they're old enough to wander across the state line.

The 3-1 vote to list the wolf by the state's Fish and Game Commission took place just hours after biologists with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed the presence of two wolf pups in an area of southern Oregon where wolves haven't bred for decades. The area is strongly suspected to hold a den occupied by OR-7, the gray wolf whose wanderings have brought him into California, and an unnamed female wolf. The double dose of good news has California wolf advocates thrilled, as the news of both events hit social media like a small tsunami.

"Protection and science trumps politics," an exuberant Natalynne DeLapp-Hinton messaged ReWild. DeLapp-Hinton is executive director of the Arcata-based Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), which had urged the Fish and Game Commission to disregard an earlier recommendation against listing by the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife.

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"Clearly the Department's recommendation was influenced by political factors," added DeLapp-Hinton. "However, the Commissioners used their authority to fulfill the spirit and intent of CESA, which is to protect, enhance, conserve, and restore endangered species and their habitat.

DeLapp-Hinton was one of a crowd of wolf supporters who packed the Commission hearing Wednesday in Fortuna at which the 3-1 vote took place.The sole vote against listing the gray wolf was cast by Commissioner Jacque Hostler-Carmesin of McKinleyville. The listing will formally take effect after a confirmation vote in August.

Wolf activists gather outisde the Fish and Game Commission hearing in Fortuna | Photo: Natalynne DeLapp-Hinton

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the state agency charged with enforcing the state's game rules, had recommended in February against a Commission vote to list the wolf. (As we noted at the time, that recommendation was complicated and ambiguous.) But the Commission, a citizen body that essentially sets most of the rules CDFW is charged with enforcing, is legally entitled to set aside the CDFW's recommendation, and that's what they did on Wednesday.

The listing takes place in the context of federal efforts to strip the gray wolf of protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, which most independent wolf scientists concede is driven much more by politics than by science. State listing in California has been pushed as a fallback position by wildlife advocates for some time: listing under CESA would protect wolves like OR-7 (and now, his pack) even if they were to be stripped of federal protection. A decision on federal delisting is expected from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service later this year.

But in the meantime, gray wolves in California now enjoy some of the strictest protections the state offers. And with wolves almost literally at the state's door, that's become more important than ever for the wolves and their partisans.

As for those new Oregon wolves, biologists say that the two seen by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife likely have as many as four or five siblings. We'll bring you more photos of the celebrated family as they're made available.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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