A lone wolf has made a marathon journey from northern Oregon to Sierra Nevada, the farthest south a wolf has traveled in California in over a century.
The grey wolf, a plucky young male called OR-93, was fitted with a GPS tracking collar by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs near Mount Hood in Oregon back in June 2020. As is typical of adventurous young wolves, the individual embarked on a huge migration trip to find a mate or find new territory, roaming some 800 kilometers (500 miles) down to Mono County, east of Yosemite National Park in the central Sierra Nevada.
“Given the time of year, we assume OR-93 has traveled such a long way in search of a mate,” Amaroq Weiss, senior West Coast wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.
“I hope he can find one.”
California’s wolves were totally wiped out in the early 1900s following a nationwide government-sponsored eradication program. However, recent decades have seen the species spring back in a number of southwestern states. In the 2000s, wolves started to return to Oregon and Washington and in 2011 a wolf from Oregon was spotted in California. Since then, California has been home to at least two wolf packs. One of these was known as the Shasta Pack, which had five pups in 2015 before disappearing later that year.
Nowadays, fewer than a dozen grey wolves live in California, but conservationists are hopeful that the bold travels of OR-93 show that wolves could reestablish themselves in the Sierras.
“We’re thrilled to learn this wolf is exploring deep into the Sierra Nevada, since scientists have said all along this is great wolf habitat,” Weiss explained. “He’s another beacon of hope, showing that wolves can return here and flourish as long as they remain legally protected.”
While some conservationists have howled with delight at this news, others are not so happy. Wolves are apex predators and their presence in the state could bring some profound changes to the wider ecosystem, not to mention the threat they pose to livestock.
“We do manage for conservation, so we do want to see them be here. But we also have to deal with the effects of them being here," Jordan Traverso, a spokesperson with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, told the Los Angeles Times.
Conflict with humans continues to threaten the species. Just last month, the state of Wisconsin allotted 119 wolves to be killed, but hunters and trappers blew the target in three days a killed 216 wolves, according to the Associated Press. In February 2020, a female gray wolf who roamed a 14,000-kilometer (8,700-mile) journey between California and Oregon in the space of two years was found dead in northeastern California. The cause of death remained unclear, but some suspected the wolf was illegally poached.