SACRAMENTO, Calif.— The Center for Biological Diversity and three other conservation groups petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission today to protect gray wolves as an endangered species under the California Endangered Species Act. Wolves, which are not currently protected under the state law, were absent from the state from 1924 until late in 2011, when a wolf from Oregon made a thousand-mile journey to Northern California. It has lived there since.
“The return of the gray wolf to California is exciting — it’s a cause for celebration,” said Noah Greenwald, the Center’s endangered species director. “The West Coast is crucial to wolf recovery in the United States, and California has hundreds of square miles of excellent wolf habitat. But if that one wolf is to become many, wolves need help so they don’t get killed. They need the protection of the state’s Endangered Species Act, and they need a science-based recovery plan.”
Gray wolves are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act in portions of their range, including California; but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, charged with implementing the Act, has never developed a recovery plan for wolves in California. Such a plan would specify management actions needed to protect and recover the species and establish population targets. Both Oregon and Washington initiated state wolf-management plans prior to wolves establishing in those states.
“California needs a road map for recovering wolves,” said Greenwald. “Wolf populations in neighboring states will continue to expand, and more wolves will almost certainly show up in California, which has plenty of habitat and available prey.”
Today’s petition documents that wolves once roamed most of California. Even though California is now the most populated state in the West, scientists estimate there is still extensive habitat for wolves in both Northern California and the Sierra Nevada.
Between crossing the border from Canada and efforts to reintroduce them into Yellowstone National Park, wolf populations have continued to grow in the northern Rocky Mountains and Oregon and Washington. The wolf known as Journey, or OR-7, who arrived in California in December came from a pack that was formed in 2008 when wolves moved from Idaho to the Wallowa Mountains in northeast Oregon. As wolf populations continue to grow, it is likely that more wolves will travel to California.
“Wolves have been an integral part of North American landscapes, including California, for millions of years and are cherished, iconic animals that deserve a certain future,” said Greenwald. “The return of wolves to California will help restore the natural balance and reverse the historic wrong done by people who shot, poisoned and persecuted wolves into oblivion.”
Wolves are a keystone species that benefit their prey populations by culling sick animals and preventing overpopulation of species such as deer. Studies of reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park show that they benefit numerous other species as well, including pronghorn and foxes, by controlling coyote populations; they help songbirds and beavers by dispersing browsing elk and allowing recovery of the streamside vegetation that songbirds and beavers need.
The Center was joined in the petition by Big Wildlife, the Environmental Protection Information Center and Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center.
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