Gray Wolf, © Gary Schultz

California prepares to welcome wolves home, but delays on providing state protections

Gray wolves are no strangers to the Golden State. Their majestic howls echoed through our forests and rolled out into our Great Central Valley before American settlers even pushed west. But, like in so many other areas throughout the West, as California’s human population grew, its wolf population shrunk – drastically.

Gray wolf, © Michael Quinton/National Geographic Stock

Wolves are native to California and need to be protected there.

Wolves were driven from the lands they had called home for centuries – hunted, trapped and slaughtered, painted not as the great icons that they are, but as the vicious caricatures of folklore. Eventually, by 1925, gray wolves could no longer be heard anywhere in the state, and could be found only in small, scattered populations throughout the rest of the country.

Fortunately, people began to realize that America’s forests and canyonlands were missing wolves, that ecosystem health was declining in their absence, and that we were in danger of losing one of our country’s most iconic species.

In 1967, wolves were officially recognized by the federal government as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Since then, wolf recovery has been an inspiring story of native species reintroduction and of the beauty and benefits that have come from the hard-won battle to see wolves return to the places where they once roamed freely.

The recovery of gray wolves in America has indeed proven beneficial to both our environment and to human society. Wolves are important predators that contribute to the health of the ecosystems they inhabit. Predators like wolves tend to hunt and cull old, sick and injured deer, elk and other grazers. This keeps these prey populations healthy and enhances the health and diversity of the plants other wildlife need to thrive. For example, wolves have helped reduce the intensity of elk grazing on berry producing shrubs in Yellowstone National Park, which has in turn provided additional food for grizzly bears.

Not only do gray wolves contribute ecosystem benefits, but they also bring benefits to regional economies. For example, wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone brings an estimated $35 million in annual tourist revenue to the region. That figure effectively doubles once the money filters through the local economy. Forty-four percent of Yellowstone visitors cite wolves as the species they most want to see.

Despite the obvious benefits of reintroduction, however, the success story of wolf recovery is not without its villains. In states where wolves have had their federal protection removed, state management has reignited past hostility toward wolves. In Idaho, for example, elected officials have stated their intention to drive their wolf population down as low as 150 animals. Instead of managing its wolf population in a sustainable manner, Idaho is trying to eliminate most of its wolves as quickly as possible.

CA DFG shield/FWS

The state of California has the opportunity to protect wolves.

Now, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes to remove Endangered Species Act protection for wolves throughout most of the rest of the country, gray wolves are once again at risk. Delisting would short-circuit wolf recovery in the Pacific West and would effectively mean giving up on one of our country’s most important and iconic species. Fortunately, California has an opportunity to play a meaningful role in helping the gray wolf continue to recover in the coming months and years.

At a California Fish and Game Commission meeting on April 16th, commission members decided to delay establishing state protections for gray wolves under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA), and won’t make a decision for 90 days. While we believe the gray wolf certainly fits the criteria for listing as an endangered species under CESA because it is in serious danger of becoming extinct throughout all or a significant portion of its range in California, not all is lost for hopes of protecting wolves in the Golden State.

If the delayed decision does not result in a listing, the silver lining is that the Commission may use its regulatory authority to adopt measures that would make sure that wolves can thrive here. Defenders urged the commissioners to move expeditiously to adopt a strict prohibition on killing wolves in our state, which will be especially crucial in the event of federal delisting.

Defenders is also working with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, other conservation organizations, agricultural and ranching interests and the hunting community to inform the development of this Wolf Conservation and Management Plan through the California Wolf Stakeholders Group. The Commission should adopt additional regulations that direct the Department’s management of wolves upon the completion of this state wolf plan.

Gray wolf OR-7/Richard Shinn, CAFW

Gray wolf OR-7, or, “Journey”, regularly travels back and forth between Oregon and California.

We all remember when, in late 2011, a lone wolf known as OR-7 made his way to California after his species was driven from the state nearly 90 years ago. OR-7’s arrival was an exciting and historic event – and very rare for a species that has disappeared entirely from a state to return under its own power. It is only a matter of time before California once again boasts an established population of wolves. We must welcome them back and protect them so that they can thrive here as they once did.

In these early stages of recovery in states like California, our wildlife managers should observe the tragic example being set in places like Idaho, where wolves are now treated like vermin, and not allow these kinds of anti-wolf attitudes to cloud the truth: wolves are a native species that belong here, and Californians want them to return. Eighty-three percent of California voters polled agree that wolves are a vital part of America’s wilderness and natural heritage and should be protected as they make their way back to their rightful place on our state’s landscape. California wildlife managers must decide not if, but how to protect gray wolves in the Golden State.

Pamela Flick is a California Representative for Defenders of Wildlife.

A version of this post was originally published in Earth Island Journal, here.

16 Responses to “California prepares to welcome wolves home, but delays on providing state protections”

  1. Packprincess

    Instead of slaughtering hundreds of wolves in Idaho were they are not wanted by a wolf terrorist Governor, relocate them to Oregon, Washington, and California. Wolves are protected in Oregon, if they over make it out of Idaho alive 🙁 My dream is to someday hear beautiful wild wolves howl in the the mountains near where I live. Save the wolves.

  2. Susan Breci

    Please implement laws to protect Wolves in California.

  3. Valerie

    Wolves are a natural part of nature! They are needed for a healthy ecosystem! They must be allowed to “be wild” and contribute to the natural world the way they are supposed to be!

  4. jeanie Tottenham Tave

    Yes..absokutely relocate the Wokves out of Idaho..ASAP..OLEASE PROTECT THESE MAGNIFICENT ANIMALS!!! THE WOLF MUST BE PROTECTED!!!!!!

  5. Karin

    Please stop the killing of wolves.they where there before any humans came .i surely hope they will stay there and live peacefully after all humans are gone….

    Xxx from Holland

  6. morag calton

    Wolves like other animals are an important aspect to our eco system, we need them!!!! Everything on this planet is designed to balance each other. Wolves like any other predetor will only kill what they need!! The worst animal on this earth is man. You ingovernment have the power to change, to stop killing what we have as nature intented. Please save these wolves!!!!!

  7. Schulze, Janny

    Es ist so verdammt Schade, das wir die Tierschützer und die Tierfreunde gegen Windmühlen kämpfen müssen, damit wir die Schöpfung und Tiere auf diesen einzigartigen Planenten beschützen und erhalten müssen.
    Leider sind immer nur Geschäftsleute daran interessiert wie Sie diesen Planeten ausschöpfen können und mit den armen wehrlosen Tieren nur Provit auf Masse zu machen.
    Dieser Egoismus und diese Habgier dieser Leute , bringt nur Leid, Elend und Zerstörung mit sich.
    Daher mein Apell: schützt die Tiere auf diesen einzigartigen Planeten, vor der Ausrottung!

  8. Susan Williamson

    I thought it was interesting that the head of the CA NRA spoke at the F&W Commission meeting and several times referred to his meetings with the Dept. of Fish & Wildlife Director Mr. Bonham, as if they were on best buddy terms. I don’t think this bodes well for wolves or any other wildlife species in CA. The Commission looks too much in the pocket of ranchers and hunters to me. More wildlife advocates need to show up for these meetings and write more letters and call these people.

  9. Dillion

    A healthier ecosystem, $35 million tourist business in Yellowstone – that’s a helluva lot more than any politicians can add to their resumes! We are definitely destroying the wrong animal!

  10. gregory cleary

    As you know it’s mostly about greed, some body out there is get there pockets full of money. Even though the American public agrees with the protection of wolves. Maybe Idaho would let defenders live trap and relocate the wolves out of Idaho to save their lives.??? We also have problems here in Minnesota, there are a lot of stupid ignorant people in politics and in the ( fish and wildlife dept. ) out there who get their ways. They really don’t care as they say, just show me the money. Which is really sad, I feel so sorry for our wildlife, because of mankind’s stupidity and heartlessness.

  11. Lissa Lane

    This killing must stop. I just heard a woman on Jane Velez Mitchell’s show saying it was a way of life. No it is not. Murder is not a way of life. My goodness where are her values. These wolves deserve to be protected. What kind of government policy allows the murdering of such wonderful, complex animals. It makes me ill to think what they are proposing might come to fruition. Please God don’t let this happen. They must stop the killing. We need to protect these wolves. Thank You.

  12. R Matthew Simmons

    Given the hostile sentiments towards wolves and just about everything else, save for elk, up ID, MT and WY the State of California might be one of the only real and sane choices for reintroduction – if they’re afforded enough habitat to thrive to the point where they can reach an equilibrium with the environment and their prey.
    If the poll numbers stated in the article are correct, or even close, and there is that much support, to me that indicates a populace that is tolerant, well educated and patient enough to give them a real chance.
    Personally, I would rather spend my money there than supporting locales that are generally hostile towards wolf reintroduction and have made a cottage industry out of hunting and killing them.

  13. Dan M

    People living in a fantasy world who suggest wolves can be managed by trapping and relocating have zero grasp of the extreme task that would take. First not enough trapping or relocating could be done to accomplish the goal on such an elusive and reproductive animal. The only way this could be done is to catch and relocate anywhere from 30%-75% of the population, depending on pack size. That is how many wolves must be either relocated or eliminated to have any impact or controlled. Wolves can not be “managed” they must be controlled. To introduce the Northern Wolf into its non traditional habitat is extremely risky. The introduction of the northern grey wolf to Yellowstone has created the destruction of 75 years of conservation to the Rocky Mountain elk and other species in that area. Packs number up to 25 members and have decimated the age structure of the elk herd where only older non-reproductive animals dominate. Packs of this size can take down any animal it targets. Even the moose of Yellowstone have become so scarce as to be, or should be included on the endangered species list. Too many people put the wolf on a free pass list to do as it pleases without considering their overall impact on the environment. The wolf is not some mythical beast that deserves an unearned status of being protected above sound science based management.

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