Residents in the Westwood/Clear Creek area may encounter wolves because these two communities are part of the range for the Lassen Wolf Pack. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates the range for this pack to be 500 square miles.
However, residents do not need to fear a wolf encounter, said Kent Laudon, an environmental scientist and wolf specialist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Northern Region, during a town hall meeting Thursday, Feb. 13. While it is important to take precautions with all wildlife, a cow moose with a calf is more dangerous than a wolf, said Laudon. Encounters with mountain lions and grizzly bears are also more dangerous.
People who walk or hike with their dog need to be aware that wolves are territorial and will kill their pet, added Laudon. He advises people to assess their surroundings, and if they notice a lot of wolf tracks or scat, hikers must understand they may be near a wolf rendezvous site, which is an above ground area where pups are taken when they are old enough to leave the birth den. Therefore, take your dog somewhere else, advised Laudon.
The breeding season for wolves is February with pups born in April. An average pack size is six to seven animals, but currently the Lassen Pack consists of three wolves. Laudon said the pack doesn’t necessarily increase by the birth of pups that are born because they either disperse or die.
Laudon presented information on wolves via a slide show at the town hall organized by District 1 Lassen County Supervisor Chris Gallagher at the Westwood Community Center. Following the presentation, he answered questions from the audience along with Brian Ehler, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Northern Region Honey Lake Wildlife Area. Laudon has 30 years of experience as a field biologist, specializing in wolves since 1997. He has worked in Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Arizona and New Mexico.
To gather information on the Lassen Pack, wolves are tracked with trail cameras, although there is not a solid grid of cameras, so catching one on camera is luck, said Laudon. Public reporting is also helpful but since biologists never know if people actually see a wolf, three to four reports of a siting are more reliable. There needs to be a pattern, said Laudon. Also, biologists examine scat to gather genetic information on the wolves in an area. At the Feb. 13 meeting, one audience member said he had a photo of five wolves, and Laudon said he would like to see the photo.
Addressing livestock and wolf interactions, Laudon said they were low regionally. He said due to the interstate highways, I-5 and I-80, which helps limit the wolves’ range, the Lassen Pack is locked into working habitat. Therefore, wolves come into contact with grazing cattle especially during the summer. In spite of the contact, cattle are intimidating especially to the small number of wolves in the Lassen Pack. He said collaboration between ranchers and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is important.
Wolves are scavengers so it is difficult to identify the source of a kill unless biologists can get to the site quickly. Attack patterns for wolves are different than mountain lions. He said all investigations and findings on possible livestock attacks are listed on the wolf page on the department’s website. Laudon added that since wolves are coming into California, the Department of Fish and Wildlife was trying to deter damage. However, in California a problem wolf cannot be removed, and ranchers are not compensated for a loss as they are in some states with wolf packs.
The department has a long-term management plan online. Currently wolves are listed as an endangered species both federally and in California.