The news many area ranchers have expected and dreaded for several years finally came last week in a statement from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife — biologists have confirmed Lassen County has its first official wolf pack — a female wolf and her mate that have produced at least three pups this year. The biologists reported they captured and fitted a tracking collar to the female gray wolf, but her mate’s location remains unknown. The announcement wasn’t news to local rancher Richard Egan, whose family holds a grazing permit near the Moonlight Valley area where the wolf pack has been reported. He said he discovered and reported wolf tracks in the area last fall, but he didn’t think the state biologists took his discovery seriously.
And despite the wolf being listed under the California Endangered Species Act — ranchers can’t even shot at the wolves if they are caught attacking their animals — Egan said he didn’t know what he would do if he came upon wolves attacking his cattle or his cattle dogs. He said he’d have to make that decision at that moment.
According to the CDFW statement, remote trail cameras captured images of two wolves traveling together in Lassen County last summer and fall, but there was no evidence they had produced pups at that time. Egan said he’s very concerned about his livestock now, but he expects his concern will rise even higher next year when the parents begin to teach the three pups how to hunt.
“The pups are three months old right now, so they’re probably not going to be that much of a threat this year,” Egan said. “But next year — the male, the female and those three pups are certainly going to be a problem.”
And Egan said he doesn’t know what he’s going to do in the future when he’s faced with the grim reality of grazing his cattle in an area inhabited by a grey wolf pack. He said while the state biologists seem very happy about the reintroduction of this predator species into the state, ranchers justly fear for their livestock and their livelihoods.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” a frustrated Egan said. “There are so many problems just dealing with the forest service, and this may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for us. At some point it’s just not worth going up there.”
Related to OR7
While the female’s origin remains unknown, genetic samples obtained from scat indicated the male wolf originated from Oregon’s Rogue Pack. The famous wolf OR7 is the Rogue Pack’s breeding male.
Then in early May 2017, partner biologists from the U.S. Forest Service found evidence of recent wolf presence in the Lassen National Forest. CDFW biologists began surveying the area and planning a capture operation to collar one of the animals. On June 30, after 12 days of trapping attempts, the 75-pound adult female gray wolf was captured. After a thorough exam by the biologists and a wildlife veterinarian — including the collection of genetic and other biological samples — the wolf was collared and released.
“The anesthesia and collaring process went smoothly and the wolf was in excellent condition,” said CDFW’s Senior Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Deana Clifford. “Furthermore, our physical examination indicated that she had given birth to pups this spring.”
The following day, July 1, CDFW biologists returned to the field for a routine follow-up check on the female. They encountered tracks of what appeared to be wolf pups, and then found that a nearby trail camera operated by USFS had captured photos of the female with three pups. The pups were gray in color and were serendipitously A trail camera captured this image of a 75-pond female wolf and two of her pups. The female wolf has been captured and equipped with a tracking collar. The location of the male of this breeding pair remains unknown, but DNA tests confirm he is related to OR7, the lone wolf from Oregon who traveled through Lassen County seeking a mate several years ago. Photos submitted photographed playing in front of the camera.
The Lassen Pack
These wolves, named the Lassen Pack by the USFS employee who first detected their location, are the second pack of gray wolves known in California since their extirpation in the 1920s.
The first confirmed breeding pair in California produced five pups in eastern Siskiyou County in 2015, and are known as the Shasta Pack.
The current status of the Shasta Pack is unknown, although one of the 2015 pups was detected in northwestern Nevada in November 2016. The tracking collar affixed to the Lassen Pack female will collect data relative to her activity patterns, survival, reproduction and prey preferences.
The Lassen Pack regularly traverses both public and private lands, including industrial timberlands, and the collar may also help to minimize wolf livestock conflicts by providing information about the pack’s location relative to livestock and ranch lands.
While most of the pack’s known activity to date has been in western Lassen County, some tracks have also been confirmed in Plumas County. Gray wolves are currently both state and federally listed as endangered. Their management in California is guided by endangered species laws as well as CDFW’s Conservation Plan for Gray Wolves in California, finalized in 2016.
CDFW’s goals for wolf management in California include conserving wolves and minimizing impacts to livestock producers and native ungulates.
The Conservation Plan, a wolf sighting report form, a guide to help distinguish a gray wolf from a coyote and additional information about wolves in California can be found at wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Mammals/Gray-Wolf.