Protect Gray Wolves under California Endangered Species Act

In 2011, something very dramatic happened in California, something that hadn’t occurred since 1924. A wild wolf tread on our land. OR-7, perhaps as famous now as any other wolf ever has been, traveled into Northeast California that year and stayed through most of 2012. OR-7, or Journey, as he was named by school children to help protect him from poachers, dispersed from his birth area of Northeast Oregon eventually traveling over 1000 miles to the northern counties of California

The only known photograph of OR-7 in California (source California Dept of Fish and Wildlife)

The presence of OR-7 in California sparked the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Big Wildlife, the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), and the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center to petition the California Fish and Game Commission to include the Gray Wolf as an endangered species in California under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) as they make their anticipated recovery.

Now OR-7 is possibly mated and raising pups in the Rogue River National Forest. If so, another layer of criticality is added to our concerns. Pups that eventually disperse from Southern Oregon will surely enter California. The need for protection of this obviously endangered species will be even more apparent.

Bird Ally X/Humboldt Wildlife Care Center (BAX) stands with CBD, EPIC and the other petitioners in their call for CESA protection using the science of ecosystem-based management; that is, that wolves and other apex predators are a necessary and desirable component of healthy watersheds, forests, and range, and warrant state-specific legal protection in California. We agree with the petitioners that all things point to listing the Gray Wolf as endangered in California.

The only thing that stands in the way of wolf recovery in our state is the space that we provide them. That space has a name: endangered species protection.

It is an easy observation that habitat must be given to wolves if they are to have a place in our shared world. It may be less easy to see that a similar space must be provided within the public mind. California’s returning Gray Wolves must be invited, if they are to be welcome.

We respectfully disagree with the assertion that adequate protection for wolves is achievable through a variety of obscure regulatory codes. Public ignorance was the key factor in the extirpation of California Gray Wolves. A critical feature of the wolf’s recovery must be public education.

However important regulation, enforcement, and administration are in protecting endangered species, CESA is more than this – it is also a tool for public awareness, public education and the expression of the values of the citizens of California.

As wildlife rehabilitators, BAX strongly supports and promotes co-existence with our wild neighbors. Our commitment to our patients requires our allegiance to the health and well-being of all wildlife. If we are to effectively advocate for California’s natural heritage, we need the cooperation of the state. Listing the Gray Wolf as endangered will provide not only the legal protection wolves need, but also the framework for a better understanding of the contributions predators, and all wild animals, make toward the health and beauty of our lives and our world.

As wildlife rehabilitators, each day we talk with members of the public resolving conflicts between people and wildlife. A sparrow nest in the chimney, a raccoon in the backyard, a shopping plaza that destroys a colony of nesting herons – these and myriad other scenarios await us every time the phone rings. Each time, we must advocate for wild animals, for the laws that protect them, and for the best possible outcome, which includes greater understanding and appreciation for the natural world that sustains us. The best possible outcome includes greater respect for wildlife and wild space.

These experiences on the front line of wildlife protection teach us that rescuing endangered species is much more easily accomplished using tools that speak to each of us. The language of endangerment cuts across all cultures and perspectives. When we say that a species requires special protection, we either mean it or we don’t. We are either welcoming the wolf home to California, or we are not. If we are, then we must provide the welcome that will make a real difference, not just in the Fish and Game Code, but in the understanding of the people who must yield something so that the wolf might live. Only listing Gray Wolves as endangered can do that.

As do most Californians, from enthusiastic open space lovers, such as those of us who call Humboldt home, to the urbane citizens of the world class cities to our South, we look forward with excitement to the restoration and recovery of the Gray Wolf to their historic home in our state.


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