California Has a New Wolf Pack

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed a new pack in Tulare County, the southernmost location since wolves returned to the state in 2011.

California Has a New Wolf Pack

While reports of wolf sightings from across the state roll into the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), most turn out to be coyotes. Some turn out to be dogs. But this past summer, these tips led to the discovery of the Golden State’s newest and southernmost wolf pack. 

In July, CDFW began receiving multiple reports of sightings in central California’s Tulare County. Workers from an environmental consulting group then caught the pack on a trail camera. A team of CDFW scientists went into the Sequoia National Forest, just south of Sequoia National Park, where the reports originated and returned to their forensics lab in Sacramento with a dozen samples of scat and hair. 

All belonged to gray wolves new to the state’s database and confirmed the existence of a new pack, the state’s seventh. The lab identified five individuals — one adult female and her four pups, two males and two females. While they did not find samples from the father, DNA indicated he came from the Lassen pack in Northern California. 

The lab confirmed the mother is a direct descendant of OR-7, a male wolf that ventured into the state in 2011, marking the first return of wolves in a century. While gray wolves are native to most of California, they were eradicated in the early 20th century. OR-7, born to the Imnaha pack of northeastern Oregon, was the seventh wolf that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife fitted with a tracking collar. He first crossed into California in December 2011. 

Over the next few years, OR-7 made brief trips back and forth across the border before finding a mate on the Oregon side and establishing a territory and new pack. In the years since, wolves have quickly expanded in California. 

“We’ve seen it go from one wolf in 2011 that kind of played hokey pokey over the state line and then went back and established a pack up in Oregon, to 50 wolves,” said Jordan Traverso, CDFW deputy director of communications, education and outreach. “So, I’d say they’re doing pretty good — and those are only the ones we know about.” 

Since confirming the pack in Tulare County, CDFW is working to learn more by placing a tracking collar on at least one of its members. 

“It’s not like ‘Find my iPhone.’ It doesn’t show you exactly where it is at all times,” Traverso said. “But it also gives us information just by looking at what the landscape is and what their needs are and what things are around there. How are they utilizing the landscape? There’s just a ton of information that we glean from having an animal in a pack collared.” 

Per its wolf management plan, CDFW hopes to use this data to its advantage as wolves expand into more of their historic range. California is the country’s most populous state with almost 40 million people living in large urban centers and traveling busy highways. 

Californians who got used to living without wolves are now having to contend with a new predator. As wolf populations expanded across the Pacific Northwest, CDFW knew it was only a matter of time before packs came south. Traverso says management plans, tracking collar data and other information should help CDFW manage conflicts between wolves and people.

Photo Credit: Gerald Corsi


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