ENDANGERED SPECIES – The California gray wolves will keep their endangered species protections even once the rebounding animal hits a population of at least 50, state wildlife officials said Wednesday.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife published its plan for managing wolves late Tuesday, setting its policy for the species that is making a comeback to the state after it was killed off in the 1920s.
“Wolves returning to the state was inevitable,” said Charlton Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in a statement. “It’s an exciting ecological story, and this plan represents the path forward to manage wolves.”
The plan marks a shift in course, dropping language from an earlier draft that directed officials to remove wolves from the list of animals protected once they reached the critical mass.
Wolves in California were hunted to extinction nearly a century ago, but a lone wolf called OR-7 crossed the northern border from Oregon in 2011. OR-7 and his mate have had a litter for each of the last three years, and cameras caught another family pack in Northern California, but it hasn’t been spotted in several months, wildlife advocates say. Officials say it’s hard to say how many wolves roam the state today, but their numbers remain small.
In response, state officials in 2014 granted the wolf protections under the state’s endangered species act, despite opposition from hunting and livestock groups who fear the predator will kill deer and valuable cattle. Under California’s protections, gray wolves can’t be killed or hunted.
U.S. law also protects wolves in most of the nation, except for Idaho, Montana and parts of Washington, Oregon and Utah, but there is a pending proposal to strip federal protections from most of the Lower 48 states, including California.
Kirk Wilbur of the California Cattlemen’s Association said ranchers in California are prohibited from taking meaningful steps against the predator that kills their livestock. They can’t throw a rock in their general direction – let alone shoot one that’s killing cattle, he said.
“The options are very limited to the way a rancher can protect his livestock,” Wilbur said. “That can be absolutely devastating for a rancher who is a small business owner.”
Wolf advocates, however, praise the plan. Amaroq Weiss of the Center for Biological Diversity said wolves are in the early stage of making a historic comeback, and it’s too soon to consider stripping away protections.
“It’s one of those conservation moments you don’t know if you’re going to get in your lifetime,” she said. “We’re getting it in California, and it’s really exciting.”