The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has confirmed the presence of two gray wolves in western Lassen County.
After a wolf-like canid was photographed by trail cameras in Lassen County in fall 2015 and spring 2016, CDFW began operating additional trail cameras in the area and regularly searching for wolf scat and tracks. This summer, photographs, tracks and eyewitness sightings suggested the presence of two canids frequently traveling together.
Numerous scat samples were collected by CDFW scientists and submitted to the University of Idaho’s Laboratory for Ecological, Evolutionary and Conservation Genetics. Genetic analysis of the samples confirmed the presence of a male and a female gray wolf. There is no current evidence — such as trail camera images, tracks, scat or reported observations — suggesting the wolves produced pups this year.
Analysis of scat indicates that the male wolf was born into the Rogue Pack in 2014, and most likely dispersed to Lassen County in late 2015 or 2016. The founder of the Rogue Pack is the well-known gray wolf OR7 (collared in Oregon by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) who dispersed from northeast Oregon and traveled around northern California in 2011 and 2012 before eventually finding a mate and establishing a territory in southern Oregon in 2013.
The DNA of the female wolf does not match that of any known individual wolves from Oregon, and initial analyses indicates she is not a close relative of current Oregon wolves. Dispersing wolves have commonly been documented to travel great distances, and it is possible that she dispersed from another western state. The collection of higher-quality genetic samples may eventually lead to a better understanding of her origin.
Gray wolves were eliminated from California more than 100 years ago, until the return of OR7 in 2011. In May and July 2015, a trail camera in Siskiyou County captured images of a single adult, black wolf. Additional cameras were placed in the vicinity and in August 2015 images of two separate adult black wolves and five pups were captured. CDFW designated these animals the Shasta Pack. Until confirmation of the pair of wolves in Lassen County, these were the only wolves known to occur in California.
According to strategies identified within CDFW’s draft Conservation Plan for Gray Wolves in California, CDFW will continue to assess and monitor gray wolves in California. If the pair documented in Lassen County continues to stay in the region, monitoring may include capturing at least one of the two and fitting it with a satellite-based GPS transmitter.
“The purpose of collaring gray wolves is to understand some key biological parameters such as habitat use, prey preferences and reproduction, as well as to potentially minimize wolf-livestock conflicts” said Karen Kovacs, a CDFW Wildlife Program Manager who has studied the wolves. “Due to concerns for the welfare of wolves, capturing them is generally not feasible in cold weather. Therefore, we would not attempt to capture and collar the wolves until late spring at the earliest.”
Gray wolves are currently listed as endangered both federally and within the state of California. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and CDFW have no plans to reintroduce gray wolves into California. CDFW’s draft Conservation Plan for Gray Wolves is available at www.wildlife.ca.gov/conservation/mammals/gray-wolf.