On December 29th, 2011 the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) announced that an endangered gray wolf wandered into California from southern Oregon. For anyone who appreciates wildlife, or has followed the very successful recovery of the gray wolf in the northern Rockies, this is an historic event because it marks the first confirmed gray wolf in our state since the last wild gray wolf was killed in Lassen County in 1924.
The wolf is OR7, a 2 ½ -year-old male gray wolf fitted with a Global Positioning Device (GPS) collar by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. He has been on quite a walkabout since early Fall when he dispersed from the Imnaha pack in Northeast Oregon. It is estimated he has covered more than 700 miles on his trek through Oregon’s protected and unprotected landscape- a journey which now includes a visit into our state.
My own interest in wolves began in 2003 when I was a volunteer with the Nez Perce Tribe/US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) on the gray wolf reintroduction project in central Idaho. Working with an agency biologist I would spend the long summer days in Idaho’s vast backcountry attempting to locate established wolf packs, confirm reproduction, and occasionally attempt to trap and radio collar individual animals. We observed wolves very infrequently but when we heard their howls or had an occasional glimpse, it was an unforgettable moment. OR7’s mother, B300, was born in Idaho where she dispersed from the Timberline pack in 2008. She swam across the Snake River to reach Oregon and establish the Imnaha pack. It is thrilling for me to know wolves are reclaiming their rightful place in the landscape of the Pacific Northwest.
The recovery of wolves, California condors, bald eagles, grizzly bears, and so many other critically endangered animal and plant species, would not have been possible without the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA is not just a strong environmental law – it also articulates a noble vision. In it, for the first time in world history, the legislators of a great nation said that it would do everything in its power to prevent the extinction of any species within its border. The ESA was originally passed by Congress in 1973 with overwhelming bipartisan support, including a 92-0 vote in the Senate, and was signed into law 38 years ago on December 28th by President Richard M. Nixon. The strength of this commitment represents the best of who we are as a people. Unfortunately, the current political climate brings ongoing challenges to the ESA- and many of the other laws designed to protect our environment- from the fringes of both major political parties. The Endangered Species Coalition and our 400+ member groups are one hundred percent dedicated to ensuring the ESA remains the law of the land and maintains the noble vision of a Congress and President united almost 40 years ago to stop extinction.
No one knows where OR7’s travels will take him next. He is likely in search of a mate but it is unlikely he will find a female wolf on our side of the border. However, it is certain that others will eventually follow his path. OR7 has made it possible for us to imagine a day when viable wolf packs inhabit areas of California where suitable habitat remains, restoring ecological integrity to some of our state’s best wild places. I know I speak for all who are represented by the Coalition when I say “Welcome to California OR7”!
This post was written by Barry Braden, a former member of the Endangered Species Coalition Board of Directors.