CA: SAN DIEGO WILDLIFE ADVOCATES PAVE WAY TO RESTORE
GRAY WOLVES IN CALIFORNIA
Posted on February 18, 2014
by TWIN Observer
By Susan Murphy
Efforts in San Diego County to restore Mexican gray wolves
in the southwest are paying off. A recent survey shows a steady increase of the animal in the wild.
The Mexican gray wolf population at a recovery range in Arizona and New Mexico, where breeded animals are released, has increased to 83 — up from 75 last year, and just four in 1998. The California Wolf Center in Julian is one of several facilities across the country working to breed the endangered animal, which is a sub-species of the gray wolf.
This map shows the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction location along the Arizona and New Mexico border.
Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
The group is also working to pave the way for the return of gray wolves to California by proposing state and federal conservation plans and educating the public.
“Mainly because they’ll sometimes get into conflict with livestock, and people tend to have very strong feelings one way or another about wolves; they either kind of love them or they don’t,” said Lauren Richie, director of California Wolf Recovery at the Wolf Center.
Earlier this month, following a yearlong review, the director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Chuck Bonham, recommended to not list the gray wolf on the endangered species list. Instead, he advised listing the wolf as a species of special concern and that a prohibition be placed on killing of gray wolves in California.
The commission is expected to consider his recommendation and could act on it in April.
Richie said she’s puzzled by the recommendation because currently, just one gray wolf called OR7 is meandering along the northern California border, and she believes the endangered species list is warranted.
OR-7 – A Lone Wolf's Story
The male wolf known as “OR7” was born in northeastern Oregon in spring 2009. It weighed approximately 90 pounds when collared with a radio transmitter by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) in February 2011. It is referred to by biologists as OR7 because it was the seventh wolf radio-collared in Oregon. Its collar transmits location information to satellites daily and is expected to continue to function until at least 2013.
Until recently, OR7 was a member of northeastern Oregon’s Imnaha pack. The Imnaha pack was first documented in 2009 and currently occupies much of the Imnaha River drainage (east of the communities of Enterprise and Joseph) in Wallowa County. The founding members of this pack migrated into Oregon from Idaho.
Although it had as many as 16 wolves in 2010, the Imnaha pack may now have as few as five animals. Several members died in 2011, and four radio-collared wolves (including OR7) have dispersed from the pack since December 2010. Additionally, the locations and fates of five uncollared pack members are currently unknown. According to ODFW, it is likely that some or all of these wolves may have also dispersed from the pack.
The dispersal of younger individuals from a pack is common. Dispersing wolves generally attempt to join other packs, carve out new territories within occupied habitat, or form their own pack in unoccupied habitat. In addition to OR7, known dispersers from the Imnaha pack include OR5, OR9 and OR3:
OR5 is a female and entered southeastern Washington in December 2010. Its current whereabouts are unknown.
OR9 is a male that swam across Brownlee Reservoir and entered Idaho in July 2011 where he was subsequently taken by a hunter in February 2012.
OR3 is a male that dispersed westward in May 2011. Its collar transmits VHF radio signals only, making the animal more difficult to regularly locate. It was last located on September 30 in the Ochoco Mountains of central Oregon (northeast of Prineville), and its current fate is unknown.
During winter and spring, the Imnaha pack tends to occupy lower-elevation areas consisting of a mix of private and public lands. In summer and fall, the wolves spend most of their time on public lands at higher elevations. The pack has been documented to kill livestock and two of its members were killed by ODFW in May 2011 in an effort to deter further depredation events. In September, ODFW decided to kill two additional wolves from the pack, including the alpha male. However, that action has not yet been implemented due to a court-ordered temporary stay. As an Imnaha pack member, it is likely that at some point OR7 has been involved in livestock depredation in northeastern Oregon. However, since OR7 was collared in February 2011, it has not been documented to have taken part in any depredation events.
Dispersal – Oregon
OR7 dispersed from the Imnaha pack in September 2011. Between September and early November it followed an approximately southwesterly course that took it across parts of Baker, Grant, Harney, Deschutes, Lake, Klamath and Douglas counties. During that journey it crossed Interstate 84 and U.S. Routes 26, 395, 20 and 97.
Between November 8 and December 23, OR7’s movements slowed and it occupied a broad area near the crest of the southern Cascades. This area included portions of Jackson and Klamath counties and included much of the Sky Lakes Wilderness. Field work conducted by ODFW determined that OR7 visited an elk carcass and livestock carcasses (bone pile) in this area. On November 14, an animal thought likely to be OR7 was photographed by a hunter’s trail camera on public land east of Butte Falls.
In late December, OR7 left the Sky Lakes area and headed south-southwest to near Howard Prairie Lake and Oregon Route 66. It then turned eastward, ultimately crossing the Klamath River and Highway 97. On December 28, OR7 crossed into California northeast of Dorris, a small town in Siskiyou County.
Dispersal – California
Since arriving in California, OR7 has traveled in the southern Cascades and across portions of the Modoc Plateau. Its average daily movement has been approximately 15 air miles. Since animals do not typically walk in straight lines, the actual distance it travels is likely much larger.
Dispersing wolves can readily traverse most habitat types and OR7 has passed through ponderosa pine forests, mixed conifer forests, lava flows, sagebrush shrublands, juniper woodlands and agricultural lands. Although OR7 has used private lands (timberlands in particular), most of its route has traversed public lands.
No public safety incidents events or agricultural losses stemming from wolf damage have been reported in California. There have been no confirmed sightings of OR7 in California.
Dec 28 – 31. After entering California, OR7 passed through Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge and then continued south-southeasterly across private and public lands (BLM and USFS) near Mt. Dome. On December 31 it was on the Modoc National Forest between Lava Beds National Monument and Medicine Lake.
Week of January 1-7. OR7 remained in roughly the same area between Medicine Lake and Lava Beds NM until January 3. On January 3 and 4, OR7 crossed the Medicine Lake Highlands and moved approximately 30 air miles to the southeastern corner of Siskiyou County. It entered eastern Shasta County’s Fall River watershed on January 5. It soon turned westward and crossed the Pit River and Highway 89. On January 6 and 7, it was in the Cascade Mountains west of Burney. It spent much of its time in an area of regenerating forest that had burned in the 1992 Fountain Fire.
Week of January 8-15. OR7 remained in the Cascades west of Burney until January 9. It then traveled south along the Cascade crest to LaTour State Forest before turning eastward. By the end of January 10, it had crossed Highways 89 and 44 and was in Lassen County near Bogard Buttes (over 49 air miles from its transmitted location point on January 9). OR7 continued its rapid travel on January 11, traveling approximately 30 air miles to near Grasshopper Valley in northern Lassen County.
“It’s kind of hard to get more endangered than that,” said Richie. “But we do understand there’s a lot of scientific uncertainly. Usually when a department is looking at listing a species at the state level they’ve got to use a lot of scientific data to make that decision, and there isn’t really much because we don’t have a wolf population.”
“If we could get another way to afford protections, that would be, I guess, a second best choice,” she added.
More gray wolves are expected to move into California from the north as the population grows.
“It’s hard to predict how many could come,” said Richie. “That really depends on the habitat and the prey base that’s available for wolves.”
“We’re preparing for wolves to come back regardless of what the protections are because we think it’s inevitable and we see being proactive as a positive thing regardless of what the legal status is,” Richie said.
EFFORTS IN SAN DIEGO HELP CRITICALLY ENDANGERED WOLF
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
By Susan Murphy, Katie Schoolov
"Here at the center we have 23 wolves," said Erin Hunt, general manager of the California Wolf Center. "We have six Alaskan gray wolves, and the Alaskan gray wolves are here for education and research purposes. We also house Mexican gray wolves, which are critically endangered, with only about 50 living in the wild today."
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Efforts In San Diego Help Restore Critically-Endangered Wolf
Once on the brink of extinction, Mexican gray wolves are staging a comeback. A conservation center in San Diego is helping with the effort to reintroduce them to the wild.
Mexican gray wolves were nearly extinct in the 1970s, with just five remaining in the wild. But the survivors were captured and the species was saved. Today, the Wolf Center is part of a national effort to give them a second chance.
"We have had one pack of wolves born here actually get to go out into the wild and they lived successfully in the wild for many years," said Hunt. "And the alpha female of that pack has offspring that are still currently living in the wild."
Four Mexican gray wolf pups were born at the California Wolf Center in April 2011. The pups will likely be selected for breeding or release when they're old enough.
Credit: The California Wolf Center
Above: Four Mexican gray wolf pups were born at the California Wolf Center in April 2011. The pups will likely be selected for breeding or release when they're old enough.
Three more wolves are set to be released this fall or winter to the reintroduction area along the Arizona and New Mexico border.
The wolves preparing to be reintroduced have very limited human contact. Most of the packs are off display and kept far away from visitors.
"We limit the amount of time we spend in each enclosure," said Hunt, "and we only enter certain areas of the enclosure. You don’t want to release a wolf that’s gotten a little too used to being around people by being in the captive environment," Hunt explained.
Hunt said the wolves thrive at the center -- four pups were born in April. But when they’re released into the wild they face many challenges.
Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Above: This map shows the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction location along the Arizona and New Mexico border.
"That’s when the work really begins," said Chelsea Davis, the Center's animal care and facilities manager. "The wolves in the wild are monitored and checked weekly."
One way they're monitored is through howl surveys. "So they'll go out around dawn or dusk – peak activity times for wolves," said Davis. "And they'll actually try to get wolf packs to howl -- and you can tell two individuals and two pups."
Another way is through special micro-chipped collars.
"A lot of times you’re expecting the wolves will stay in the area where you released them and then you find them 60 miles away from there by the end of the week," said Davis.
The wolves are also observed to make sure they’re hunting and eating the right prey, such as elk, deer and fish. That’s because the reintroduction area is federal grazing land where roaming cattle and sheep often become tasty temptations.
The California Wolf Center
The California Wolf Center is a conservation and research center located 50 miles east of San Diego near Julian. The center is home to Alaskan and Mexican gray wolves -- some of which are exhibited for educational purposes.
Historically, wolves were killed by ranchers for attacking livestock. At the Wolf Center, researchers are experimenting with taste aversion, which is lacing meat with a nausea-inducing chemical.
Dan Moriarty, a professor of pshychological sciences at the University of San Diego is using the technique to teach captive Mexican gray wolves that eating sheep will make them sick.
"Some people describe this as a process of going from yum to yuck," he said. "It tasted good when you first encountered it, but after this illness episode it simply doesn’t taste good anymore.
Moriarty said the question is whether the learned aversion during captivity will be enough to prevent the wolves from attacking livestock in the wild.
"Certainly it’s going to be enough to prevent them from eating, and it’s hard to imagine why a predator would attack something -- logically why would it attack something that is distasteful.
The real answer is going to come with the field trials, Moriarty added.
Moriarty is hopeful the aversion will be an effective tool to boost the number of successful reintroductions. The goal is to create a thriving ecosystem –just like their sister, the Alaskan gray wolf has done in the northern Rockies. They too were on the brink of extinction and were reintroduced in the wild starting in 1995.
Credit: California Wolf Center
Above: This illustration shows the Yellowstone National Park ecosystem before and after the Alaskan gray wolves were returned to the wild, starting in 1995.
That’s why there’s such excitement over four Mexican gray wolf pups born at the center earlier this year. Hunt said they’ll likely be selected for breeding or release.
"It could take several years for that to happen," said Hunt. "As I said they are very young animals right now, but it is definitely a potential in their future."
Conservationists had hoped to have 100 Mexican gray wolves in the wild by 2005, but six years later, they’re only half way there.