Wolves are back in California

In 2011, a gray wolf from Oregon crossed into California and became the first known wolf in the state in about a century. That wolf traveled back into Oregon, but in 2015, a camera recorded two adults and five pups, now dubbed the Shasta Pack. For anybody in ecology, wolves should be really exciting. For one, the cat folks will disagree, but canines are the best. More importantly, predators are good for ecosystems. We can’t make a lot of firm rules in ecology, but if there is one, that might be it: Predators are good for ecosystems. If you haven’t already seen this short bit about how Wolves Change Rivers a million times, it’s worth the four minutes to watch.

In the rest of the world, wolves get a bad rap. They’re accused of eating livestock and people fear wolf attacks on humans, even though they’re exceedingly rare (3 attacks in all of North America over 52 years). So in response to the new presence of wolves in California, the CA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife put together a Wolf Plan. You can read all 400 pages of it here, if you like. The short version is this: gray wolves are on the CA Endangered Species List, so they are “No Take”. That means they can’t be hunted, trapped, killed, or harmed. The bigger question is what happens if the wolf population increases in California.

On Tuesday night, CADFW held a meeting in Long Beach to hear public opinion on their plan before they draft a final version. I went because I was curious about the plan and because I honestly think that these public meetings are both entertaining (e.g. blog post about the Animal Services Board Meeting) and one of the best ways for the public to have input into what happens in government. As I walked in, the left side of the room was filled with people that were easily identifiable as wolf lovers. They were either clearly ecologists (come on, you know we can identify each other in a crowd) or animal lovers. The other side was filled with a bunch of gruff looking dudes in cowboy hats and big heavy jackets that looked like they could effortlessly rip your arms off. I assumed these were going to “The Ranchers”, but was I ever wrong.

The CADFW staff presented their wolf plan, but the bulk of the meeting was devoted to public comment. But for two exceptions, everybody who got up to provide comment was speaking in support of having more wolves in California. Some of these were from conservation groups that already do good work (e.g. Center for Biological Diversity) and others were just concerned citizens. The big cowboy hat dudes? They were all from wildlife protection groups and they were the most entertaining and passionate speakers of anybody there. In particular, I’d recommend checking out Union Members for Preservation of Wildlife (affiliated with the Teamsters, no less!).

The thing that people were most upset about is that the plan proposes to remove the gray wolf from the CA Endangered Species List when numbers reach 50-70 wolves. I don’t know much about wolf ecology, but that seems like a very very low number to consider for de-listing this species in the state. Nobody knows whether that is a large or small number of wolves in California, because we’ve never had enough wolves here to collect data about their impact on the environment and society. Personally, I hope that these precise numbers are removed from the draft and instead, the State considers the new data that we’ll have when the time comes to make a decision about whether to de-list the species or not. Note that this is just a draft plan, so the public is welcome to provide comment until Feb 15. You can even do this online at http://wolfconservationplancomments.org. I could be naive, but my impression is that these public comments are taken seriously and public opinion can sway what ends up in the final report.

So, what’s the point of all this? GET INVOLVED IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT. It’s the best way to have your individual voice heard on issues that you care the most about. #AllGovernmentIsLocal


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