Andy Walgamott, our editor-in-chief and poobah for California Sportsman’s sister magazine, Northwest Sportsman, loves all things wolf and blogs about the lupine creatures whenever possible. So I had to tease him when news broke from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife about a possible wolf sighting in Siskiyou County, which would be a significant development in the state given that wolves have been all but extinct.
Here’s the release (the photo at the top of the page depicts an overlay of the wolf trail cam photo in question and an added image of a coyote to compare the size of both species; more on that in the ensuing release):
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has collected evidence that suggests at least one wolf has traveled into Siskiyou County.
Based on compelling information received earlier this year from Californians reporting they saw a large, dark-colored canid, CDFW deployed a number of remote trail cameras within southeastern Siskiyou County.
At one location, in early May, images were captured of a large, dark-colored, lone canid, which is possibly a dispersing gray wolf. Although scat was collected in the area for genetic analysis, they yielded poor-quality DNA and results were inconclusive. Since then, no other images of a large canid have been captured at this location.
In early June, CDFW biologists came across large canid tracks on a dirt road in a separate, remote location of Siskiyou County, while searching for fawns as part of an ongoing deer study. The tracks were fresh and were from a single animal. Some were within the tire tread marks made from a CDFW vehicle the day before. Assumptions based on the track’s size, linear nature and distance, compelled CDFW staff to place a trail camera to remotely capture images of subsequent animal activity along the roadway.
On July 24, CDFW downloaded a series of images from that camera taken the previous week, revealing a large, dark-colored canid. Although other wildlife species and a few passing vehicles were also photographed, there were no images of domestic dogs or other human activity.
Based on the photographic images and tracks, CDFW biologists believe that this lone animal is a gray wolf. The animal’s tracks are significantly larger than those of a coyote, and a comparison of the images with photos of an adult coyote captured at the same site indicate the animal is significantly larger than a coyote.
Additional remote cameras have been deployed and CDFW wildlife biologists will return to the location in an attempt to find scat for subsequent DNA analysis to conclusively confirm whether or not this animal is a gray wolf. This area of Siskiyou County is comprised of both U.S. Forest Service holdings and private timberland.
Wild wolves historically inhabited California, but were extirpated. Prior to the arrival of the famous wolf OR7 in December 2011, the last confirmed wolf in California was in 1924. This animal is not OR7. OR7 has not been in California for more than a year and is currently the breeding male of the Rogue Pack in southern Oregon. Biologists believe that if the animal photographed on the trail camera is a wolf, then like OR7 in 2011, it is probably an animal that has dispersed from a pack in Oregon. Dispersing wolves generally attempt to join other packs, find a mate and carve out new territories within occupied habitat or form their own pack in unoccupied habitat.
This situation is unique from OR7’s presence in the state, however, because this animal does not have a radio collar. OR7 was collared with a radio and satellite transmitter by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in early 2011. The satellite portion of his collar provided daily information about his location for several years, including the time he spent in California. CDFW does not have the same information about the canid captured on the trail cameras because it does not have a radio collar. To glean additional information about the animal, CDFW must rely on photographic evidence, tracks and hopefully confirmation from scat samples.
Gray wolves are listed as endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). In June 2014, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to list gray wolves as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act. Because of these protections, take is prohibited. The Federal ESA defines “take” as “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.”
Though wolves rarely pose a direct threat to human safety, CDFW recommends that people never approach, feed or otherwise disturb a wolf. For more information about staying safe in wolf-occupied areas, including what people should do if they encounter a wolf, please visit www.wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Mammals/Gray-Wolf/FAQ.