Wolves likely kill calf in northern California, expanding range rapidly
By JIM MATTHEWS
And so it begins.
A month after a rancher in Siskiyou County in Northern California reported that a pack of wolves had killed a calf in his herd, the Department of Fish and Game finally released a report that confirms the calf was likely killed by the wolves and not merely being fed on by the animals.
The report also confirms that a pack of at least five wolves is living in the area, and that a second adult cow may have been killed by the same pack. While genetic testing has not confirmed this yet, these wolves are probably part of the newly named Shasta Pack that is likely to number up to seven animals (two adults and five young).
If these wolves are not part of the Shasta Park, it means there is already a second wolf pack in the northern part of the state.
The interesting part of the story is that the wolves in the Shasta Pack are not descended from the famous wolf – OR7 – that wandered northern California from late 2011 into early 2013. That wolf is currently part of a mated pair living in Oregon right on the California border. Genetic testing has proven the wolves in the Shasta Pack came from the Imnaha Park of northeastern Oregon.
Young wolves frequently disperse from their original packs to find new territory, eventually establishing their own territories and packs. The establishment of new wolf packs in Washington, Oregon, and California shows how quickly this repopulation takes place.
Since the wolf reintroduction program began in the northern Rocky Mountains, the population has gone from the 66 animals released in 1995 and 1996 to over 1,800 at the end of 2014. Growth rates of the wolf populations has been as high as 70 percent per year (in Idaho) and as low as 15 percent (Yellowstone) as wolf numbers saturated available habitat. Since Idaho and Montana have been allowed manage wolf numbers with hunting and trapping programs, growth rates have still been from 10 to 20 percent per year and dispersal into other areas not occupied by wolves has been brisk.
Even with aggressive hunting/trapping programs like those in Idaho, many wolf observers believe the wolf population in the West will number well over 5,000 in five years and over 15,000 in a decade with most of that growth occurring in areas that currently do not have wolf populations. Their numbers are going to explode when they reach Colorado and Utah.
In the newly-written draft of the California wolf management plan, the DFW estimates the wolf population in Northern California could reach 370 animals based on the available prey and habitat. The DFW also suggests the wolf population could extend throughout the Sierra Nevada and smaller packs could even form and survive in the Los Padres, Angeles, and San Bernardino national forest regions in Southern California.
In spite of the whining you hear from quasi-environmental groups who want you to send them money to protect “endangered” wolves, the reality is that these animals are not endangered (and never have been). In fact, they are here to stay, like it or not. Their numbers will continue to grow rapidly for the next three or four decades until the West is again saturated with wolves.
What does that mean for humans, especially human hunters? In California, it means our politicians and the DFW will cede that wolves have a greater right to deer and elk than human hunters, and big game hunting in this state will slowly disappear unless we see some drastic changes in how wildlife is managed here. It certainly doesn’t look like that is happing any time soon under the current political leadership. (In states like Idaho, wolf numbers might be kept in check enough so human hunters can continue to hunt deer, elk, and moose.)
The good news? There are a lot of us who live at the edges of the urban-forest interface here in Southern California who might step out into our backyards and hear a wild wolf howling within the next two decades. Never mind that the wolves might eat your Labrador Fido when you are out for your morning run. Never mind that seeing a deer, commonplace in so many places now, will become a rarity. It’s all worth it, right? Sure, we have the wrong subspecies of wolf living in habitat where it didn’t evolve, but we will have wolves back. I want grizzly bears and jaguars next.
FISH AND GAME COMMISSION LOSES MASTRUP: Sonke Mastrup, the executive secretary for the Fish and Game Commission, has resigned his post to take a job back in the Department of Fish and Wildlife to finish his long career in wildlife management. The loss of Mastrup to the Commission couldn’t come at a worse time. Mastrup served as a liaison between the politically-appointed Commissioners, most who did not hunt, fish, or have any background in wildlife management. The primary job of the Commission is to set hunting and fishing seasons and adopt wildlife regulations. In the past the Commission was mostly made up of avid hunters and fishermen. Of the current five Commissioners, only one is an avid hunter and two others are occasional anglers. Mastrup was the sportsman’s and scientist’s voice in the Commissioner’s ears. He was the one who pointed out most of the DFW funding came from sportsmen and their interests where the Commission’s first responsibility. Without Sonke there is real, serious concern hunting and fishing will lose that important voice.
“Sonke had not only the wisdom to look ahead, but the vision and courage to take on and help mold that future. He did a fine job and the California outdoors community will miss him more than they know,” said Tom Raftican with The Sportfishing Conservancy.“