Gray wolves heading to California.

spectr17

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Gray wolves heading to California.

Defenders seek protections as ranchers howl

Michael McCabe, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer

February 5, 2002

Sometime soon, perhaps within the next couple of years, gray wolves will make their way across mountains, valleys and streams into Northern California looking for new territory.

Wolf experts believe they're already on their way.

The migration is all but inevitable, wolf lovers believe, as inevitable as the push westward by humans searching for new lives.



To prepare for the wolves' stealthy arrival, an environmental group, Defenders of Wildlife, has petitioned the federal government to designate 16 million acres of national forests and parks in Northern California and southern Oregon as suitable wolf habitat for study and management purposes. They say the area -- a swath of land nearly twice the size of New Jersey -- could support as many as 500 gray wolves.

But the prospect of gray wolves (Canis lupus) returning to lands where they have been extirpated -- trapped and shot -- since the early 1920s is provoking conniption fits in many parts of the Klamath-Siskiyou region of Northern California, particularly among some of the region's sheep and cattle ranchers.

Backed by studies by biologists and historians showing that wolves once roamed throughout much of California, wolf advocates insist the animals are good for the environment: Wolves create balance in the ecosystem by, for example, dispatching coyotes and aging elk. Additionally, they argue, wolves would be a natural magnet, as they have been at Yellowstone National Park, for eco-tourists hoping at least to hear an authentic wolf howl or two.

For some ranchers in these economically depressed areas, however, the wolf is fast establishing itself as the icon of their twin tormentors: the faceless federal government and the effete, tree-hugging environmentalists.


ANGRY RESIDENTS
Residents are already so angry over federal efforts to protect the spotted owl, the coho salmon and two species of sucker fish -- efforts they say have hurt their livelihoods -- that some are calling for secession. Siskiyou County is sprinkled with signs proclaiming it the independent state of Jefferson, a movement with roots in the early 1940s.

They are in no mood to greet still another endangered species into their midst, particularly the wolf, which some recall their great granddaddies going to great effort to exterminate.

Ranchers, in particular, fear that wolves will turn to their livestock for survival, primarily picking off calves.

"To be honest I think it's stupid to bring wolves in these parts," said Harvey Hagedorn, 67, whose family has ranched near Yreka for more than a century. "Wolves need to eat something, which is usually deer, but the deer population is already way down thanks to the overpopulation of the cougar," which has been protected since 1990.

Scientists who study wolf migration patterns say sightings of wolves in Washington and in Oregon are clear evidence that they are headed into the Southern Oregon-Northern California region. In the last few years, environmentalists say, at least three wolves have made their way into eastern Oregon from Idaho. Two were killed by cars. One was shot, illegally. The wolves in Washington had made their way down from Canada.

Environmentalists, worried about the possibility of ranchers and hunters shooting the first wolf arrivals to the area, intend to weigh in heavily when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decides within the next few months whether to reduce protections for the gray wolf in California and other states.


GROWING POPULATION
The agency will consider downgrading the wolf's status from endangered to threatened, or delisting it entirely in some states, including California, from the Endangered Species list. With an estimated 3,500 wolves in the lower 48 states, officials say the species has made a spectacular recovery in many parts of the country, especially in Minnesota and Yellowstone National Park.

But when the wolf shows up on California's door, its supporters want a welcome mat of sorts. That is why they want a 16 million-acre region designated as suitable wolf habitat, coupled with the strongest protections under the Endangered Species Act. Whether they and the wolves will get them is an issue that will help define rural Northern California's future.

"We think the wolf should remain listed as endangered because we don't think the wolf can safely make it to California and form a viable population without these protections," said Nancy Weiss, California species associate for Defenders of Wildlife based in Sacramento. "The problem is whether humans will tolerate them, whether they will shoot them."

The likelihood of that happening apparently is high, to hear some ranchers and farmers talk.

"These eco-terrorists who propose these things never think of the consequences -- when the ranchers and farmers kill the wolves, there'll be a big outcry," Hagedorn said.


REIMBURSEMENT PROGRAM
Defenders of Wildlife has a program to reimburse any rancher for a documented loss resulting from a wolf kill, but most ranchers say that isn't nearly good enough.

Marcia Armstrong, executive director of the Siskiyou County Farm Bureau and the Siskiyou County Cattlemen's Association, says the problem is that cattle nowadays are bred to survive and prosper in the landscape and climate in which they are raised. Replacement cattle, she says, interfere with the genetic integrity of the herd.

"Our last remaining industry up here is agriculture, and it is already in trouble," Armstrong said. "Many people here suggest that wolves and maybe grizzly bears be introduced into the streets of San Francisco and Sacramento --

it seems like the problems with endangered species are always in the rural areas, and people with all the ideas about them live 400 miles away from the rural areas."

In Yellowstone Park, where 33 Canadian gray wolves were trapped and reintroduced in 1995 and 1996 amid bitter controversy, ranchers and landowners living outside the park remain on edge, although others are reportedly becoming more relaxed about the program. Today, more than 200 wolves thrive in and around the park.

"We are not asking that wolves be reintroduced (in Northern California or Southern Oregon), by helicopter or truck, from other areas, although many people are interpreting our petition that way," said Weiss of Defenders of Wildlife. "We are asking that the area be designated as one good for wolves and then to do further studies to determine whether the best way to bring them back is by reintroduction or natural dispersal."

Patrick Valentino, executive director of the California Wolf Center based in San Diego, added: "Without protection from the federal government, anyone can shoot wolves on sight.

"We think wolves should be allowed to recover naturally in their historic range, but there should also be a management plan in place to protect livestock -- and the kids, if that worries people. But the record shows that no one has ever been killed or eaten by a wolf in North America."



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Gray wolf facts
-- Weight: Ranges from 40 to 175 pounds; female wolves weigh slightly less than males. Wolves in the northern United States tend to be larger, some reaching 130 pounds or more. The heaviest wolf on record was 175 pounds and was killed in Alaska in 1939.

-- Speed and range: Wolves trot at 5 mph but can run in short bursts at up to 35 mph. They can travel 30 miles per day hunting for food and as much as 500 miles in a week looking for new habitat.

-- Life span: Eight to 12 years.

-- Protections: All gray wolves in the lower 48 states are listed as endangered except in Minnesota, where they are listed as threatened. Populations in Alaska are unlisted.

-- Diet: Large hoofed mammals are the favorite, usually deer and elk, but occasionally they'll settle for smaller animals such as beaver or rabbits.

-- Strength: The wolf's jaw can exert 1,500 pounds of pressure per square inch, twice that of a German Shepherd. Wolves can crush large bones in just a few bites.

-- Habitat: Forest, tundra, deserts, plains and mountains in Alaska, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin, Wyoming -- and possibly Oregon and Northern California in the future.

Sources: Defenders of Wildlife; California Wolf Center.

E-mail Michael McCabe at mmccabe@sfchronicle.com.
 

Thonzberry

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Gray Wolves are am awsome animal, but if they are going to let them just move all over California, they need to monitor them, so if they are killing a farmers live stock, he should have the right to shoot them and get in trouble. Also how many wolves will be shot by people who will think that they are coyotes. If they become ovrer populated like the coyote, they should alow them to be hunted.
 

sportyg

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I mush agree with Thonzberry, the only thing i might add with the wolf & lion. It will be the start of the end of deer hunting here in California. As are deer heards will be killed off over time..
 

Hook

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They are gonna kill off the deer and antelope population in the northern part of the state. The livestock as well. Then it will be kids playing in their yards.

What a foolish idea.....introducing wolves in CA.
 

MarinePMI

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I believe you'll see a decline in the Coyote population as well.  As I understand it, Wolves are the only natural predator of the Coyote, killing them on sight.
 

Varmint Al

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This is merely another method for the Eco Freaks to take control of large areas of Oregon and California. This should be stopped. When will they want to put rattle snakes under your house?
 

huntducks

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You will see when they get a court order, and close down 10 million acres to deer hunting or all hunting saying they fear a wolf will be shot by mistake.

Make no mistake some judge in SF will issue it.

If they ate Mt lions I for them getting a foothold then remember the 3 S's.
 

RIFLEMAN

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    I may get ravaged by your responses, but here goes...

The NATURAL reintroduction of wolves may have several positive influences on our state's wildlife.  
1.  The return of wolves to California will affect our mountain lion population in several ways. First, wolves may compete with lions by driving them off of the ungulate carcasses.  Second, wolves will affect lions directly by killing them, and indirectly by affecting lion and ungulate behavior and distribution.
2.  As was mentioned earlier, we will certainly see a reduction in this state's coyote population, as the wolf is a coyote's most effective predator.  In fact, following the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone, the overall coyote population dropped by 50%.  In areas of intensive wolf activity, the population dropped by 80-90%.  Furthermore, the coyote pack size was reduced from five or more animals per pack to one or two animals.  As such, the coyote returned to its more traditional role as a scavenger and a small game opportunist rather than a top echelon predator.
3.  Our deer numbers will initially take a substantial hit in the overall population of the northern part of the state, but in a few years, will increase beyond the levels where they are at today.  This may seemed far-fetched but bear with me.  This theory is supported by basic economic, agricultural and wildlife management-related principles.  Due to the liberal political influence on our state's wildlife management, doe and either-sex hunts are nearly nonexistent in California.  As such, our average buck-to-doe ratio is approximately 22 bucks for every 100 does...a pathetic figure.  In states with excellent deer numbers like Texas, the ratio is at least 1:1.  The problem with a low ratio is that many does go unbred yearly.  This has a negative impact on the deer population in two ways.  The first is that they obviously do not increase the population directly.  The second is that they compete for resources (food, water, etc) with the bred does.  This is especially detrimental in periods of heavy snow.  By multiplying the number of unbred does by 1.45 (a figure determined by the loss of each unrealized fawn plus the winter mortality rate) you can figure out the unrealized gain to the deer population.     The wolves would not discriminate which sex they preyed upon and would initially drive down doe numbers significantly.  This should bring the buck-to-doe-ratio up and increase the percentage of bred does.  More bred does and less coyotes mean a greater percentage of fawn recruitment to adulthood.

However, like many of you, I have some concerns.  I worry that the wolf would be used as an excuse to close large tracts of national forests and lock up existing logging roads.  I also worry that hound hunters would routinely lose their dogs to wolves without compensation, as dogs do not fall under the Defenders of Wildlife's compensation program.  
 

rlwright

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I agree with Rifleman, it wouldn't be all that bad. No matter what kind of predator is introduced into an ecosystem, it's population is still goverened by the available prey. The carrying capacity of the ecosystem will not change. What will happen is coyotes and mtn. lions will get displaced and replaced by wolves, and eventually the predators will balance out. Mtn. lions populations are directlly proportional to deer populations, less mt. lions means more deer. I worry about the Elk populations, they take longer to stabilize and are having a hard time getting reistablished in N. Ca. anyways. Wolves hunt in packs more effectivley and tightly then coyotes. It is more efficient for them to take bigger animals like elk and cattle, big carcasses feed more faces.  

The ranchers are still going to suffer losses, and thats the real issue. Wether it's losses by mt. lions, coyotes, or wolves, it's still the same problem. There will now be a third variable in the same equation.

Putting wolves on the endangered species list is a risky move. Wolves are a real prolific animal like coyotes. but to a lesser degree. They will have no problem surviving in Ca. I would support this project under three conditions, one of which already exists:

1.) Mountain lions be pulled off the endangered species list . Some are going to initially die off from the wolve anyway.

2.) When the wolf population starts to reach equilibrium with the other super predators, they also get pulled off the endagered species list.

3.) The existing condition, Ranchers should get the right to take anything that consistently kills their cattle w/in their property.

As far as setting aside special wolf habitat, no way. Theres already ample "saftey zones" that they can inhabit without getting shot.
 

shaginator

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Actually, Rifleman, you state the issue very well. I agree with you on all counts.

Wolves coming back to California would be great, but there is an eco-fanatical political faction willing to use this as a means to steal land away from legitimate public use.


(Edited by shaginator at 7:24 pm on Feb. 15, 2002)
 

paulc

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reintroducing the wolf to california does not solve the deer herd problem.. and it will create way more problems than it will solve.  read the article in the elk post about the elk herd in montana... you would be a complete fool to think that once the wolfs were established that they would be controlled in any way.. we would have an ecosystem in ca with several predators and the one that would be cut out of the pictur is us the hunters.. not the coyote, wolf or lion.

dont get snowed.
 

RIFLEMAN

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You guys make a very good point about the elk herds...they would suffer the most in my opinion.  While the elk herds have a foothold in this state, they are by no means increasing their numbers as rapidly as Fish and Game expected or hoped for.  The wolves would most certainly play a deciding role in the fate of the Del Norte and other northern herds.  I do not foresee the opportunity for continuing the limited draws hunts for these herds as a result.  

To respond to the criteria set by rlwright:
1.  The mountain lion is not on the Endangered Species List.  Rather, it was granted Protected Mammal status in California.  The reestablishment of the wolf in California and the affect wolves have on lion population dynamics would be another argument used by those who oppose hunting mountain lions in the state.  We would be even less likely to regain the opportunity to hunt lions in this state.  As such, I do not feel that this criteria is a likely outcome.
2.  The wolf is on the Endangered Species List at the federal level.  Regardless of whether or not the population warrants delisting in California, it will remain so long as the federal or national population is below that which they determine to be healthy and not threatened.  Lifting the protections granted by the Endangered Species Act on a local or state level is highly unlikely and nearly impossible.  I don't see this criteria being met either.
3.  The government will never give ranchers the discretion to shoot the predators...the government does not trust their judgement or motivations.  What is likely is that the ranchers will be compensated the fair market value of their lost livestock (once it has been officially determined to have been killed by wolves) under a program administered by the Defenders of Wildlife.  Strike three on the criteria, in my opinion.

rlwright, if my opinions turned out to be correct, would you no longer support the NATURAL reestablishment of wolves into California?  

    While wolves are relatively prolific, I don't foresee the wolves achieving the numbers that they have in many other states...we simply do not have a large enough ungulate prey base that they need.  As was mentioned, wolves prey on large animals...chasing rabbits, squirrels and field mice just doesn't cut it for them.  Once California has a large and expanding population of Whitetails (give it 10-15 years), the wolf numbers may not be so limited.

What I wonder is whether or not it is even feasible/legal in today's political and social climates to prevent the reestablishment of wolves into California.  I am betting that any attempts to prevent them from emigrating here naturally are going to be met with such public opposition and furor (barring the fear factor), the state Fish and Game would buckle to the pressure.  Only the USFWS (which would probably have jurisdiction anyway) might be so "bold" as to trap/dart/net them for relocation to other states.  This might not be feasible with the "not in my backyard" mentality...much like nuclear waste.

As far as I see it, there are three possible approaches the government will take in regards to the wolf in California:  1)Yes-the government will provide funding and direct involvement into the wolf reestablishment with such programs as setting aside federal "Wolf Recovery Zones", 2)Maybe-the government will neither encourage or discourage the emigration and allow the wolves to determine their own fate, and 3)No-the government will aggressively find and relocate the wolves found in California.

This is a complicated and volatile subject indeed.
 

 
 

rlwright

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It's no surprise that the criteria I set forth would ever be feasible, it's way to demanding, especially #3. Yes, I would still support the NATURAL reintroduction of Wolves. Natural,  meaning no government intervention of any kind on the federal or state level. But this will never happen for the sake of the Elk herds. As far as unnatural reintroduction I would not support it, unless the wolf was deamed as an endangered species and looked at on a local level. But even with this criteria there would be a movment to close down a designated wolf area, and I don't want to see that either. Delisting the wolf is an issue that is currently gaining attention in Montana.

I agree that the introduction of wolves would be used by those who oppose Mt. Lion hunting, but it wouldn't work for them to take that stance. While the lion population in the north would slightly decrease, the south would be unaffected by a natural reintroduction. I don't think wolves could ever make it beyond the Sierra Nevadas anyways. Theres just not enough ungulate prey base for them. The lion - human confrontations would continue to be a problem down here. This would be another good reason to delist them as federally endangered and look at there populations on a local level.

I agree, it is looking like a no win situation. On one hand it's going to cost money, and on the other it's going to cost us our Elk.
 

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