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State Acknowledges Wolves Returning to California, But Wavers on Protection
SAN FRANCISCO— Documents obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity — which petitioned in February 2012 for state protection for gray wolves — show state wildlife officials and independent scientists agree that wolves are likely to return to California. The prediction has been reinforced over the past two weeks, when the wolf known as OR-7 made two more forays into the state from Oregon.
But despite that compelling evidence, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is undecided whether to recommend awarding protection to wolves under the state’s Endangered Species Act, according to the agency’s draft status review of a state proposal to protect wolves that was obtained by the Center.
“As OR-7 keeps showing us, wolves are definitely coming back to California,” said Amaroq Weiss, the Center’s West Coast wolf organizer. “And given the negative attitudes towards wolves of a small minority of people, it is clear wolves will need state protection as they recolonize the Golden State.”
The state listing petition was filed two months after OR-7, the first confirmed wolf in California in nearly 90 years, crossed into the state from Oregon two years ago this month. OR-7 remained in California for 15 months before returning to Oregon, and has since come back into California three times, most recently on Dec. 7 and 11.
In October 2012 the department recommended that listing may be warranted, making the gray wolf a candidate for listing, and began the status review that will be completed by February. The Center has now obtained a draft of this review, as well as peer reviews of the report from several scientists. Although the peer reviewers varied in their opinions about whether wolves should be protected right now, none disagreed with the agency’s conclusion that the dispersal of wolves into California is likely.
“There’s no doubt that these beautiful animals belong in California,” said Weiss. “Like the great majority of Californians I’m thrilled about the possibility of their return. We have to take action to make sure they’re safe, though, when they get here. We don’t want them shot dead when they cross over the state line.”
The department has protected other animals that are no longer in the wild in California. And because animals that are trying to make a comeback from regional extinction need protection more than most, there is no requirement in the state’s Endangered Species Act that a species be present in the state to receive protection. The wolverine, for example, has been protected in the state since 1971, but until recently when a single male migrated to the state from Idaho, there were no wolverines in the state. Likewise, California condors did not lose protection when the last remaining individuals were pulled from the wild for captive breeding.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.