The cry of the wolf may now be heard in California for the first time in nearly 90 years, thanks to the presence of young gray wolf that entered state territory on Wednesday from Oregon.
The 2 1/2-year-old male wolf, named OR7 by Oregon wildlife officials, had already gained notoriety for a zig-zagging trek that spanned more than 700 miles from northeast Oregon, across the Cascades, to the southwestern part of the state.
The California Department of Fish and Game announced Thursday that OR7 had entered Siskiyou County, just south of the Oregon border. He becomes the first known wild wolf to have ranged in California since 1924, when the last verified gray wolf was killed by a trapper in Lassen County.
OR7's trek is believed to have been sparked by a desire to find a mate and new territory. It remains unclear whether the wolf, which has a GPS collar unit that sporadically relays his position, found an un-collared mate during his travels.
OR7 has avoided large towns and there have been no verified sightings of the predator since he was collared last February. There are no photographs of the animal, adding to its mysterious allure.
While some might find this news exciting, California ranchers are wary about the possibility of wolf expansion into the state, because of the threat that would pose to livestock, and the California DFG is already formulating a plan to deal with the eventual return of wolves.
"Whether one is for it or against it, the entry of this lone wolf into California is an historic event and result of much work by the wildlife agencies in the West," said DFG Director Charlton H. Bonham. "If the gray wolf does establish a population in California, there will be much more work to do here."
Wolves were eradicated from the West in the early 1900s by trappers and ranchers. Their reintroduction in the Northern Rockies in 1995 was controversial not only because of livestock concerns, but because of possible impacts on elk herds in some areas.
The cunning predators, believed by many to play an important role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem by thinning deer and elk herds of their weakest members, have flourished and spread to six states.
They've been removed from the endangered species list throughout much of their range and sport hunting is used in some states to manage wolf numbers.
Oregon has 25 known wild wolves. OR7 is from the Imnaha pack in northeastern Oregon. That pack, led by the alpha male (which is OR7's sire), has been implicated in at least 19 livestock predation episodes.
OR7 is the first documented wolf to have ventured west of the Cascades in more than 60 years. Before he crossed into California ranchers had already expressed worry.
Jack Hanson, a cattle rancher near Susanville in Northern California, told the Sacramento Bee: "We definitely have concerns. I'm hesitant to say I see a clear road and things will go well."
--Image showing gray wolf named OR4, of the Imnaha pack (sire of OR7), is courtesy of the Oregon Department of Fish and Game