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Once-extinct gray wolves now protected by the state of California

Two of wolf OR7’s pups peek out from a log on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, June 2, 2014.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Two of wolf OR7’s pups peek out from a log on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, June 2, 2014.

The gray wolf, hunted to extinction in California nearly 90 years ago, will be listed under the state’s Endangered Species Act. The California Fish and Game Commission voted 3-1 on Wednesday in favor of the decision.

It came the same day that U.S. Fish and Wildlife announced that a male gray wolf designated OR7 had fathered pups in Oregon near the California border. The wolf, which has split time between the two states in recent years, has led advocates to push for the listing.

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“He has made California part of his range for the last four years, and [there is] verification that he has indeed found a mate, and they’re denning with puppies just over the border in Oregon,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer for the Center for Biological Diversity. “California’s now part of that pack’s range too, so it’s very, very important to have state protections."

Gray wolves were targeted by government programs designed to protect livestock. Weiss said the last known wolf in California was killed in 1924.

Opponents have said that listing the species as endangered will make it more difficult to protect livestock. They’ve also argued that the wolves’ current absence means that they aren’t technically endangered — a distinction many have questioned.

“Clearly gray wolves were here historically, and they’re absence makes them highly endangered,” said Robert Wayne, a professor at UCLA’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. “I never understood the argument of it’s not here right now, therefore it’s not endangered.”

Wayne, who studies wolf biology, said that the new protections will make it likely that wolves will flourish in California — perhaps establishing themselves as early as a decade from now.

“I think it’s almost inevitable that wolves will come into the cascades and Sierra Nevadas,” Wayne said. “There’s habitat there and prey.”

Wayne said wolves at one time kept coyote populations in check and that the latter animal’s numbers have greatly increased in the wolves’ absence.

Weiss, whose organization petitioned for the listing, said the wolves are part of a balanced ecosystem.

“We’re all going to benefit from having wolves back. This is a great day,” Weiss said.