Environmentalists worldwide have been tracking the journey of OR-7, or Journey, the first gray wolf to enter California in more than 85 years. The lone gray wolf reached the California border in late 2011; scientists speculate the two-and-a-half-year-old male crossed into the state from northeastern Oregon in search of a mate.
While the gray wolf is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, wolves are not protected under state law, and no federal recovery plans exists for wolves in Oregon, Washington, or California. When the wolf appeared in California, livestock ranchers immediately called for a “shield” to block more wolves from entering the state. As a result, in February, four conservation groups petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission to protect the gray wolf as an endangered species under the California Endangered Species Act. This would require the state to develop a recovery plan for gray wolves whenever they pose a threat to livestock.
In a news release from the Center for Biological Diversity—one of the environmental groups who put together the petition—Noah Greenwald, the organization’s endangered species director—said, “The return of the gray wolf to California is exciting—it’s a cause for celebration. The West Coast is crucial to wolf recovery in the United States, and California has hundreds of square miles of excellent wolf habitat. But if that one wolf is to become many, wolves need help so they don’t get killed. They need the protection of the state’s Endangered Species Act, and they need a science-based recovery plan.”
Greenwald added, “California needs a road map for recovering wolves. Wolf populations in neighboring states will continue to expand, and more wolves will almost certainly show up in California which has plenty of habitat and available prey.” The other three groups filing the petition were: Big Wildlife, the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), and the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. State recovery plans for gray wolves exist in the Rocky Mountains and for Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico and Arizona.
Wolves were once common along the U.S. west coast, from Washington State to southern California. They were driven out due to the growing livestock industry in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Wolf populations have grown in the northern Rocky Mountains as well as in Oregon and Washington; there are now at least five wolf packs in Washington, including three breeding pairs. There are also four confirmed packs in Oregon, where “Journey” originated.
Gray wolves are predators that can benefit their prey population, such as deer and elk, by culling sick animals and preventing overpopulation. Studies of wolves reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park show that their presence can also benefit other species including foxes, coyotes, songbirds, and beavers, in part by dispersing elk, allowing streamside vegetation to flourish.