• The Fable of the Lion and the Wolf •
BY ANNE SOBLE
Changes in the State of California's official wildlife policies are still playing catch-up with developments in the way the state's wildlife resources are perceived by the majority of Malibuites and other Californians.
How quickly the sea change in opinion to the effect that the abundance of state wildlife species are landmarks and treasures versus targets of eradication for fun or profit takes hold at the state bureaucratic level will depend on many factors.
No one could have foreseen that the push to implement this change would receive its greatest impetus to date from the pricey "shoot for pay" ranch trophy hunting death of a mountain lion in another state.
That incident led to such a chorus of opposition and outrage that even the state's most ardent wildlife advocates were astounded at the extent to which popular values had undergone major transformation.
Few would have thought one wild animal's death could break the sporthunting lobby's chokehold on the California Fish and Game Commission, but a recently signed law makes its members more accountable to the public. In addition to procedural changes, the panel is now required to adopt a code of conduct, and set minimum qualifications for appointees, including "a demonstrated interest and background in wildlife and natural resources management.''
The first test of the newly configured commission occurs this week in Sacramento when it holds a public hearing on whether to protect what is believed to be California's lone wild wolf under the state Endangered Species Act. Fish and Game Department staff have recommended that wolves receive legal protection.
The action is proposed because a three-year-old radio-collared male gray wolf from Oregon has established California residency. The animal, dubbed OR-7 by biologists and "Journey" after a children's competition, is thriving in areas of the state's wilderness that provide excellent wolf habitat.
Protection proponents think wolves cannot thrive and repopulate naturally in California without an ESA designation to fend off those who want OR-7's next sojourn to be DOA. The law also mandates that DFG develop a comprehensive statewide wild wolf recovery program.
Agency officials are adamant there are no plans to physically relocate gray wolves to California, but if the wolves reintroduce themselves, an agency report completed in late 2011 concludes that hundreds of wolves are readily sustainable.
ESA status proponents say protecting wolves is sound ecology because the animals play a critical role in maintaining healthy ecosystems and increasing biodiversity.
It is now time to overcome the cultural demonization of wolves that has persisted simultaneously with the animal's acknowledgment as an icon of natural beauty and wilderness. This week's FGC action has all of the components of an uplifting 2012 Aesop's fable that might be titled: "How the mountain lion helped the wolf find its way home."