Delist Gray Wolves?

We know that gray wolves have never made SoCal their home. Heck, you’d have to go back to the Ice Age to find the canine’s long-gone cousin, the dire wolf, which once roamed in and around the Los Angeles basin.

But in 2011 the big male wolf OR-7 nicknamed “Journey” entered into Northern California, it seemed the whole state went Wild for Wolves and we here in the Southland couldn’t help but jump on the bandwagon. Where was OR-7 today? Is he going to stay? What if another one follows him?? After all, it had been more 90 years since a gray wolf was in the state boundaries.

Eventually, OR-7 hung around about 12 months before returning to his Oregon territory. But his border crossing did illustrate the story of wolves in the West, where the canine is seeing small victories in restoring its once-vast populations. Top experts predict that in the next 5-10 years, wolves will once again make California their home — albeit probably in Northern and Central California.

Once found coast to coast, wolves were hunted since the early 1900s; wolf numbers steadily declined so that by the 1970s, the predators were only found in remote areas of Minnesota and Michigan.

Since the 1973 Endangered Species Act, wolf populations rebounded and in the mid-1990s, wolves were re-introduced into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho.

Now, word has it that political moves are planning to remove the gray wolf off the Endangered Species Act which would leave the critter without federal protection, especially in areas where they have not fully recovered, like the Western states.

Here in SoCal, that prospect is raising red flags with folks at the California Wolf Center located in the mountains outside of Julian.  (The CWC has been active in the Mexican gray wolf recovery in Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico; one pack of gray wolves calls the CWC their home but they are ambassador animals only.)

“Our state is at the beginning stages of wolf recovery and to delist gray wolves before they’ve even established a population here would be premature,” says Erin Hunt, general manager of the center that’s been around since 1977.

Like others, Hunt was impressed with OR-7, calling his venture into California lands as how wolves start recovering their habitat. “They start out small, we’ve seen this exact scenario in other states,” she says.  “One comes and then before too long, more will take up residency.”

Peer reviews are being drawn up for presentation to Congress regarding the wolf status; additionally the public is invited to make comments regarding the issue. (The US Fish and Wildlife Service has put their peer review on hold because of outcry over the fact they excluded top scientists in the Wolf World. More to come on that front…)

Hunt encourages Californians – and even us in Southern California – to submit a comment in favor of keeping wolves on the Endangered Species List online here via their partner organization, Endangered Species Coalition:

Comments can also be snail mailed to: Secretary Sally Jewell, Department of Interior,1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC  20240.

Public comments closes Sept. 11, 2013.

When it comes down to it, Hunt says that the research scientists have done over the last 40 years have shown that wolves and humans can coexist and that’s it’s not an either/or proposition.

She’s seen how the Mexican gray wolves are slowly reestablishing themselves in the land and she’s impressed how ranchers and hunters are applying non-lethal techniques to keep wolves away from livestock and game.“They realize that these predators are necessary for a healthy ecosystem,” she says.

Indeed, wolves are probably the most polarizing animals out there, Hunt continues. So greatly loved and feared.  “We have so much fear about them, but the more we learn about them, we realize they are highly intelligent, have complex social system and are bonded to their pack. They are incredible to see and experience.”


Gray Wolf, OR-10, photo from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
Gray wolf OR-10, photo from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife