• Might Journey from Extinction Lead to Malibu? •
The howl of the wolf epitomizes the call of the wild to many people. The sound is like that of no other animal and inspires the full range of human reactions from reverential awe to abject terror and every emotion in between. The extinction of wolves in the western United States was an ecological loss.
Even in this era when technology and science have transformed nearly every facet of human existence, wolves remain locked in the stereotypes of tales crafted during a medieval agrarian era and connected to the dark side of human and animal behavior. Experts maintain that these images are grossly inaccurate, but the false assertions continue.
The environmental activist organization, Defenders of Wildlife, has been the primary force behind the reintroduction of wolves to the American West. Ranchers long used to domain over public as well as private lands and allowed to dispatch wildlife with abandon are less than happy. But many Americans are excited to think that these magnificent animals might reappear in wilderness areas.
Although the California Department of Fish and Game has remained well below the radar for the 15 months it has been preparing for the eventual return of wolves to the state, the agency is expected to release its plan on reintroduction next month. Why is the agency doing this if California wolves have been nonexistent for almost a century?
DFG is at work because of one wolf that just might be in Northern California at this moment—probably somewhere not too far below the Oregon border. Hope is pinned on this apparently lone animal to help bring about the return of the wolf to its rightful place in the local natural order.
This male gray wolf has reportedly crossed the length of Oregon in two months—circumventing pockets of human civilization, traversing dangerous highways, and surviving bitter winter weather. Dubbed OR7, the healthy three-year-old now slated to cross the border would be the first wild wolf confirmed in the state since the 1920s.
Livestock interests eradicated wolves in this state at the beginning of the 20th century. However, with increased environmental awareness has grown a new appreciation for the role of the wolf in Western ecosystems. Wolves help keep elk and deer species healthier. They also keep coyotes in check, curbing the overpopulation that forces these animals to move into suburban and urban areas.
Still, the reintroduction of wolves to the Northern Rockies by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1995 remains controversial. When the service transplanted 66 wolves from Canada to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho wilderness areas, old fears resurfaced.
Wolves have never posed a serious danger to humans. But no one disputes that some minor livestock losses from wolves may occur. If they do, ranchers will be compensated for lost animals, and permits will be granted to kill wolves proven to be repeat offenders.
According to information about the reintroduction program, OR7 is a direct descendant of the original stock that has since increased twenty-five-fold. The wolf wears a GPS collar that records his location daily. If he moves into California, he will probably become a media celebrity.
To remain in the state, he'll need a steady food supply. Deer are abundant, and California's elk population is growing. OR7 will want to avoid humans, but won't be able to avoid high speed roadways. And, of course, he will want to find a mate, and he will if the possibility exists that other wolves—as yet unknown—have similar itineraries, or are considering them.
Any wolves that enter California would be considered federally endangered species and protected by law. If several animals make the trek, it still might be years before the state has a full-fledged pack. And the extraordinary sound of wolfspeak resonates once again.