On January 16th, a report in USA TODAY made note of the fact that 88 years after the last gray wolf in California was killed, a lone young gray wolf has crossed into our state from Oregon. This is something to be celebrated considering that gray wolves once ranged across almost all of the continental United States. In an effort to protect livestock, Government sponsored wolf eradication programs almost led to the extinction of the species. When the Federal Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973, wolves were the first animal listed. As a result of the mandate to bring back the species, the gray wolf population in the Northern Rockies has come back very successfully. Not everybody is ecstatic, however, about this successful recovery effort.
While conservationists and most normal, rational intelligent people are optimistic that this lone re-entry will lead to a healthy population of gray wolves in California, livestock ranchers are concerned about threats to their herds. In addition, some people are concerned about public safety. All that needs to be said about public safety is the fact that historically and statistically there is no evidence of wolves being a threat to people. There are only two known and documented wolf attacks in the past 100 years in the US or Canada. Period. End of conversation.
This debate comes down to nothing more than livestock ranchers placing the value of their herd above the value of a healthy environment and ecosystem. The disappearance of wolves triggered environmental disruptions because they had always been an important top predator in healthy ecosystems. Their reintroduction has already helped heal some of those changes in areas of the country where they have been allowed to flourish. Elk moved away from lowlands and streams to avoid wolves which have allowed willow, aspen, and cottonwood trees to grow back. This then provided food for beavers and habitat for songbirds and shadier streams for trout and other fish. In addition, the coyote population declined because wolves keep them away from their territories, which led to an increase in the small rodent population which was a boon to other carnivores.
I wish the situation regarding wolves, and for that matter, bears and mountain lions were simple and straightforward. People have very strong feelings about these top predators, both pro, and con. Because of our consistent intrusion into what was previously pristine habitat, human-wolf or bear or mountain lion interaction will invariably increase. That doesn’t make it right to shoot anything that moves. There are many other issues and reasons as to why some people want to eradicate these species. In my biased opinion, to put it succinctly, they’re nuts. But that is a topic for another article. Because of the intense sentiments that this issue instigates, an easy solution is not readily at hand. I for one, however, personally hope that this lone wolf convinces some of his buddies that California is a great place to live.