Soon, the howls of gray wolf packs may once again serenade the moon above the Golden State.
On Dec. 28 of last year, a lone male gray wolf, known as OR7, entered California after roaming from his homeland in northeastern Oregon, according to the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG). Young male wolves (Canis lupus) often move away from where they were born, in a behavior known as dispersal. But OR7′s dispersal made history.
Two-and-a-half year-old OR7 is the first wolf observed in California since 1924, when the last wolf in the state was shot. OR7′s arrival isn't a surprise.
"With growing wolf populations in Oregon and Washington, it's inevitable wolves will be moving back into California in the near future," Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity, told Reuters.
Previous claims of wolves in the Golden State all turned out to be just coyotes, dogs, or wolf-dog hybrids. Wildlife biologists know OR7 is the real deal because he sports a tracking collar and has been monitored since he was in Oregon. A map traces his trek through northern California and can be viewed on the DFG website. To protect the wolf, public mapping of his movements are delayed.
Conservationists believe gray wolves in California will need more than time delays to protect them. The Center for Biological Diversity and three other conservation groups sent a petition to the DFG asking the agency to develop a management strategy for gray wolves in California, reported Reuters.
Gray wolves are still federally protected in California under the Endangered Species Act. But some humans want to maintain their own unchallenged status as the top predators in the American West. Hunters and ranchers complain that wolves attack livestock and big game.
"It's something we would be watching very closely, and potentially something we would be opposed to," Stevie Ipsen, spokeswoman for the California Cattlemen's Association, told Reuters regarding the movement to increase protection of wolves in California.
Gray wolf at the Oregon Zoo (Cacophony, Wikimedia Commons)