Damon Arthur, Record Searchlight
Paula Clements and Judy Law were on their way to Lassen Volcanic National Park on Monday morning when they looked off to their right and caught a glimpse of something few Californians have seen in the wild.
They were traveling east on Highway 44, a few miles outside of Shingletown. About 20 or 30 feet from Highway 44 was an animal Clements said she had seen only in zoos and from a great distance at Yellowstone National Park.
Clements said she is sure it was an adult gray wolf feeding on a deer carcass.
“I thought, wow, how many people get to see a wolf?” said Clements, who is from Redding.
“I know it was a wolf. It wasn’t a coyote, and it wasn’t a dog. It was a wolf. It was too big to be a dog. We got a really good look at it,” she said.
Clements said she felt it was a wolf, based upon photos she has seen and the wolves she has seen in zoos. It was big and dark gray, with a darker mask of fur around its eyes. And the shape of its head looked more like a wolf than a dog, she said.
As they zoomed by on the highway, the wolf looked up and ran into the nearby woods, so Clements said she was unable to stop and get a photo.
She isn’t the first person to claim they have seen a wolf in the Shingletown area.
Volunteer Fire Department Chief Tom Dodson said numerous people have reported seeing wolves in the area. Many residents have reported their sightings on Facebook, he said.
But so far, they are all unconfirmed sightings, he said.
“There are quite a few rumors around town that there are wolves running around,” Dodson said. “It’s just kind of a rumor mill thing.”
A wolf in the area of Shingletown is not out of the realm of possibility.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife this past summer confirmed a gray wolf pack living in nearby Lassen County. And OR-7, the first wolf in California in more than 80 years, trotted through the North State – including Shasta County – in 2012.
Phone messages to officials at fish and wildlife were not returned Wednesday.
Wildlife biologists typically confirm the presence of wolves in an area through photos and DNA testing.
One employee of the KOA campground east of Shingletown said there is a stray dog that has been seen in the area, and some guests have confused it for a wolf. But the employee, who did not want to be named, said she doesn’t think the animal is a wolf.
Dodson said he was born and raised in Shingletown, and has never seen a wolf.
“We do have big coyotes,” he said. “I don’t see it, but who knows.”
The Lassen wolves are descendants of OR-7 – who was born into a pack in northeast Oregon.
OR-7 spent months wandering south through Oregon before making history by crossing the imaginary line into Siskiyou County in California in December 2011.
After arriving in California, OR-7 spent months wandering the North State, traveling through Shasta, Siskiyou, Tehama and Lassen counties. He even went as far south as Plumas County before trotting back to Southern Oregon.
DNA collected from the Lassen wolves indicates they are related to the Rogue pack in Southern Oregon. OR-7 is the breeding male in the Rogue pack.
The female of the Lassen pack has been fitted with a radio collar to help wildlife officials keep better track of her and prevent wolf-livestock conflicts, officials said. While the pack appears to be living in western Lassen County, wolf tracks have been confirmed in Plumas County, officials said last summer.
Gray wolves in California are listed as endangered species under federal and state law.
September Brown said she was driving from Old Station to her home in Shingletown last week when she saw a wolf in the same area Clements reported her sighting.
“At first I thought it was a coyote, but it was way bigger than a coyote,” Brown said.
She said it was her first wolf sighting, and she hasn’t heard of anyone else in the area spotting a wolf.
Karen Haner, a spokeswoman for Lassen Volcanic National Park, said there have been no confirmed wolf sightings in the park. She said the Lassen Pack has tended to range in the northeast parts of Lassen County.
Lassen National Forest officials also have no confirmed sightings, said Jennifer Erickson, a spokeswoman for the forest service.
“We have had a handful of unconfirmed sightings across the forest,” Erickson said. The Lassen forest includes parts of Shasta and Lassen counties.