Here’s some exciting news for fans of California gray wolves: The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has confirmed that two wild adult wolves are exploring Lassen County, a sparsely populated part of the state northwest of Reno.
The agency says that trail cameras in the county caught images of an animal strongly resembling a wolf in Fall 2015, and again in the spring of this year. CDFW added to the local supply of trail cameras, and sent biologists into the field to collect scat samples. DNA from those samples confirmed that there are indeed two wolves in Lassen County. And according to that DNA evidence, there will likely be more than two before long.
One of the wolves is a male, is likely the one of the pups sired in 2014 by OR-7. (OR-7 is best known as the gray wolf who wandered into California in 2011, the first documented gray wolf in the state since 1924.) The other, a female, is apparently unrelated to any of the known packs in Oregon and California, raising the possibility that she may have dispersed to California from a more distant western state.
Whether or not the two Lassen wolves indeed have pup-making in mind, they’ve become the second documented wild wolf pack in California. (A pack can have as few as two wolves.) The other, dubbed the Shasta Pack, was discovered in 2015 in Siskiyou County. The Shasta Pack’s current whereabouts are unknown, as none of its members have ventured past a trail camera or been otherwise sighted for some months. Biologists suggest they've moved to escape deep snow in the higher parts of Siskiyou County. Shortly before officials lost track of the Shasta Pack, a group of dark-colored wolves resembling the Shasta Pack was reported feeding on a freshly killed calf in Siskiyou County in late 2015.
In January, another male wolf from Oregon’s Imnaha Pack crossed into California, in Modoc County. That wolf, a two-year-old radio-collared male dubbed OR-25, returned to Oregon a few weeks later.
Gray wolves in California are listed as Endangered under both the federal and state Endangered Species Acts. That provides a bit of legal protection for the wolves against any wolf opponents who might be tempted to take matters into their own hands.
Wolf advocates are jubilant at the news of the Lassen wolves. “This is another landmark day for wolf recovery in California,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Scientists have long said California has great wolf habitat, wolf OR-7 proved that with his historic travels here between 2011 and 2014, and now his son and his son’s mate are helping create a legacy. The female in California is particularly exciting because she’s bringing genetic diversity that’s essential for achieving long-term recovery for wolves in the Golden State.”
Banner: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife