Conservation Groups Oppose Effort to Remove Wolf Protections in California

Shasta pack photo courtesy California Department of Fish and Wildlife

SAN FRANCISCO, March 14, 2017— Four conservation groups filed a motion today to intervene in a lawsuit seeking to remove California Endangered Species Act protections from wolves. The lawsuit, against the state Fish and Wildlife Commission, was brought by the Pacific Legal Foundation and wrongly alleges that wolves are ineligible for state protection.

The intervenors — the Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Protection Information Center, Cascadia Wildlands and Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center — are represented by Earthjustice.

“Pacific Legal Foundation’s lawsuit is baseless,” said Amaroq Weiss, the Center’s West Coast wolf organizer. “Gray wolves were senselessly wiped out in California and deserve a chance to come back and survive here. We’re intervening to defend the interests of the vast majority of Californians who value wolves and want them to recover.”

Brought on behalf of the California Cattlemen’s Association and California Farm Bureau Federation, the lawsuit alleges that wolves are ineligible for state protection because wolves returning to the state are supposedly the wrong subspecies, which only occurred intermittently in California at the time of the decision and are doing fine in other states.

Each of these arguments has major flaws. UCLA biologist Bob Wayne found that all three currently recognized subspecies of wolves occurred in California. Also — importantly — there is no requirement that recovery efforts focus on the same subspecies, rather than just the species. The fact that wolves were only intermittently present actually highlights the need for their protection, and the California Endangered Species Act is rightly focused on the status of species within California, not other states.

“The gray wolf is an icon of wildness in the American West, and its return to California after almost 100 years is a success story we should celebrate,” said Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie. “Stripping wolves of protection under the California Endangered Species Act at this early stage in their recovery risks losing them again, and we’re not going to let that happen.”

Led by the Center, the four intervening groups petitioned for endangered species protections for wolves in February 2012. After receiving two California Department of Fish and Wildlife reports, scientific peer review assessment of those reports, thousands of written comments submitted by the public and live testimony at multiple public meetings, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to protect gray wolves in June 2014

State protection makes it illegal to kill a wolf, including in response to livestock depredations — a major issue for the livestock industry. But despite the industry’s concerns, a growing body of scientific evidence shows nonlethal deterrence measures are more effective and less expensive than killing wolves. In addition, the Department of Fish and Wildlife has been allocated federal funding that can be used for nonlethal conflict-deterrence measures and to compensate ranchers for livestock losses to wolves, which make up a very small fraction of livestock losses.

“The cattle industry has made clear that it views wolves as pests and that they filed suit to allow killing of wolves,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director at the Environmental Protection Information Center. “Wolves are a vital part of American’s wilderness and natural heritage, helping to restore balance to our ecosystems by regulating elk and deer populations. The path to restoring wolves is through protecting fragile recovering populations.”

Wolves once ranged across most of the United States, but were trapped, shot and poisoned to near extirpation largely on behalf of the livestock industry. Before wolves began to return to California in late 2011 — when a single wolf from Oregon known as wolf OR-7 ventured south — it had been almost 90 years since a wild wolf was seen in the state. Before OR-7 the last known wild wolf in California, killed by a trapper in Lassen County, was seen in 1924.

Since 2011 California’s first wolf family in nearly a century, the seven-member Shasta pack, was confirmed in Siskiyou County in 2015, and a pair of wolves was confirmed in Lassen County in 2016. An additional radio-collared wolf from Oregon has crossed in and out of California several times since late 2015.

www.biologicaldiversity.org

3 COMMENTS

  1. On currently recognized subspecies: Because C. l. occidentalis and irremotus are pretty much the same size, (distinctions are now largely DNA-based, rather than morphological in nature) the former, more recent DNA appeared to have crossed the Bering land bridge in the most recent ice ages.
    Wolves are social and environmental learners, being taught, like bears and humans (and MANY other species) by their elder relatives, who model behaviors. There is also a well-known predator generalization known by biologists as the 20 kilogram rule: smaller predators tend to take prey smaller than themselves, while efficiency requires larger to take prey larger than themselves when possible. This hypothesis , rather accurate in nature, means that the differences claimed by those unfamiliar with either accurate observational science of wolves, and especially by those whose interests and fears dominate their perceptions and acceptance of science, are in practical fact, nonexistent.

    I presume that the third subspecies once extant in CA is one closely genetically related to Canis lupus baileyi, the so-called “Mexican Wolf.”
    This much smaller species occupying more southern habitats, had only a small scientifically verified presence in south and southeast CA mountains.
    We have good evidence for the existence of wolf, due to the names given by the many native tribes of California, all distinguishing wolf from coyote. The older designations of different subspecies of the US southwest were, like most during the past, based on slight skull and other differences. Since they, too, occupied the same trophic niche (same prey) and body size as C. l. baileyi, we can be reasonably sure that should the latter return to CA, they will fulfill the same ecological need.
    This need includes, but is by no means limited to cleaning carrion, taking the excess reproduction of prey species – thus preventing the overbrowsing and crowd diseases known from the eastern USA of deer. Some of those diseases are dangerous to cattle and humans. The trophic cascade studied in Yellowstone National Park by Ripple and others, should also occur, as mesopredator suppression and ungulate mobility increase, allowing streamland and wetland vegetation to improve, and bird reproduction to increase.

    The advantages of wolves are far too numerous to fit into comment, but it can be said that all species benefit from their presence.

    Wolves, while highly vagile – able to disperse long distances following adolescence – remain strongly constrained by barriers, such as the recent Interstate highway System. Wolves are highly avoidant of humans, although inquisitive, as any intelligent animal must be. After a species returns to habitat wherefrom it was absent, there is a short period of high reproduction, followed by, as occurred to Yellowstone wolves, a population drop from its high.

  2. The deer population in California is 25 percent or less of its peak around 1960, much of this can be attributed to habitat loss and forest management practices. Sorry, but this comment in the article from Tom Wheeler, executive director at the Environmental Protection Information Center that wolves are “helping to restore balance to our ecosystems by regulating elk and deer populations… ” doesn’t apply to California. See my paper at: http://www.hrpub.org/download/20160229/EER3-14005647.pdf Or a summary at: http://www.deerfriendly.com/deer/california/long-term-trends-in-california-s-deer-population

    While there may be good reasons for conserving wolf populations in some environments, much of the biological diversity of wolves is captured in domestic dog populations.

    • Would you mind explaining the last part of your statement there? From my knowledge on the topic is the generally accepted origin of dogs and wolves is that they both share a common ancestor, not that any current wolf species on this planet is the direct ancestor to many dogs in existence right now. The dog breeds with notable wolf heritage are generally not considered as major contributors to the species as a whole, so to come back to the initial intent of my question; I’m having hard time understanding where you’re coming from. Can you please explain?

Comments are closed.