A two-year-old male gray wolf (Canis lupus) has recently been sighted in San Benito County. The wolf, named OR-93, has traveled farther into California than any known wolf in a century.
It’s protected under the California Endangered Species Act, and the taking (killing or injuring) of one can result in fines or jail time.
Fitted with a collar and satellite transmitter, OR-93’s journey has been closely tracked by wildlife biologists since January. Born near Mt. Hood in the Cascades of northern Oregon, OR-93 left his pack three months ago and headed south, going through parts of California including Modoc, the Sierra Nevada Range, and Fresno.
Sometime between March 26 and 27, he entered San Benito County after crossing Highway 5.
One local rancher in Paicines spotted OR-93 on her property and told BenitoLink she is excited about it. She asked for her name and location to be withheld for the privacy of her family, as well as the safety of the wolf.
The rancher said she is not concerned about predation, as she does not think a lone wolf would be any more dangerous to her cattle and calves than other predators on her property.
“I think predators are good for the ecosystem, studies have shown without those species the environment degrades,” she said.
Amaroq Weiss, senior West Coast wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, said OR-93 probably left his pack—the White Water Pack—to look for a mate and start his own pack. She suspects he might double back and head north when he cannot find a female. There are two California wolf packs near the route OR-93 traveled—Lassen Pack in Lassen and Plumas counties and the Whale Back Pack in Siskiyou County.
According to California Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Jordan Traverso, much of California was historic wolf range, “but in the almost 100 years since their absence the landscape has changed drastically. At the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, we believe this is a great ecological story that wolves have returned to their historic habitat.”
Traverso added that “the dispersal of younger individuals from a pack is common. Dispersing wolves generally attempt to join other packs, carve out new territories within occupied habitat, or form their own pack in unoccupied habitat.”
Weiss suggested that since wolves have evolved to eat wild prey, they might not prey on livestock. Traverso said, “As a hungry carnivore, it could be rabbits, rodents, deer, perhaps he found a cattle ranch with a bone pile—they will scavenge already dead animals, too, rather than only eat what they kill.”
The department’s website states that, “Gray wolves pose very little safety risk to humans. CDFW is working to monitor and conserve California’s small wolf population and is collaborating with livestock producers and various other stakeholders to minimize wolf-livestock conflicts.”
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