On a cold day in late December 2011, California’s landscape quietly changed in a historic way: A wild wolf was confirmed in the Golden State for the first time in nearly a century. Wildlife officials confirmed that the lone male wolf, dubbed OR-7, made the long journey to the state from northeastern Oregon.
OR-7 was a true trailblazer; other wolves followed in his tracks. Sightings of an individual adult black wolf in Siskiyou County, California, were first reported to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) in early 2015. In August of that year, a trail camera captured images of a family of seven black wolves, two adults and five pups. These wolves spotted in the shadows of Mt. Shasta formed the first-generation pack in California. The pack was rightly dubbed the Shasta Pack!
Now, nearly five years after OR-7’s historic journey, CDFW has confirmed the presence of new wolves in western Lassen County – one of them being OR-7’s son!
It couldn’t be clearer: Wolves are back in California, and we have a golden opportunity to make a meaningful difference for this iconic species.
Coexistence Opportunities in California
An overwhelming majority of Californians believe that wolves are a vital part of America’s wilderness and natural heritage. Long before wolves returned to the Golden State, Defenders’ California program co-founded the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition, which helped establish relationships between ranchers, conservationists and agency personnel, which we knew would be of critical importance once wolves returned to our state.
The key to this work has been promoting coexistence – an innovative approach that uses proactive tools and strategies to reduce conflicts between wolves and livestock, in turn promoting tolerance for wolves on the landscape. Coexistence is the only approach that truly works to further wolf recovery in an ecologically meaningful way while recognizing the need to work with communities that interface directly with this iconic species.
Our team has led coexistence workshops across northern California, educating stakeholders on the value of this approach. We also provide livestock producers with coexistence tools like fladry, specialized fencing with flagging that some predators shy away from, and Foxlights, devices that emit randomized strobe lights that mimic human presence out on the range.
In the last year, we partnered with the University of California Santa Barbara Bren School of Environmental Science and Management on a report that showed simple solutions can make a big difference when it comes to living with wolves. Removing attractants and using range riders across vast rangelands in northern California are some of the most preferred and feasible options for avoiding conflicts between wolves and livestock. One way to encourage more producers to take on these methods is through cost-sharing programs, which help ranchers install or upgrade fencing, install predator-deterrents and detectors and purchase and sustain guard dogs among other coexistence tools. Defenders has helped ranchers use a variety of these tools successfully in other states throughout the country and we plan do the same here in the Golden State.
What’s on the Horizon for Wolves in California?
This year will bring even more opportunities for Defenders to provide our expertise on coexistence strategies and tools in regards to wolf management, a historic conservation opportunity in California. We’re very excited to have received a Conservation Innovation Grant that will enable us to host range rider trainings soon (watch this space!). We are also anxiously awaiting the release of the state’s final wolf management plan by the end of this year. Defenders has been an active member of the California Wolf Stakeholders Working Group that advised CDFW in the development of this plan. Once the final plan is released, it will hopefully provide a much needed roadmap to how California will conserve and manage wolves well into the future.
Living peacefully with wolves in California and across the country is possible. We continue to look for opportunities to share coexistence strategies and tools on the ground in wolf country – and areas that are just starting to become wolf country once again – so that folks can live in harmony with wolves continuing to make their return to the Golden State.