Officials meet in Ventura to decide whether to list gray wolf as protected, wildlife activists rally
By Chris O'Neal 04/10/2014
UPDATE: The California Fish and Game Commission, meeting at the Crowne Plaza in Ventura this morning, April 16, have decided to defer making a decision on whether or not to list the gray wolf as a protected species in California. Many residents as well as attendees from across the state spoke either for the listing or against. Many of the opposed were ranchers, claiming that the wolves, if they were to establish themselves in the state, would pose a threat to their livestock.
The Fish and Game Commission gave itself 90 days to make the decision and another meeting is expected to be decided upon within that time. The purpose of the decision is to allow for more testimony and to answer questions, according to Commissioner Michael Sutton. We will continue to follow this story in the months to come.
In fall 2011, the gray wolf known simply as OR-7 for the tracking collar around its neck, set off from a pack in Oregon on a journey to carve its own territory and potentially find a mate. Through the winding wilderness, OR-7 made his way southward, stopping here and there to eat until in late December, it crossed into California and made history.
OR-7 was the first recorded instance of a gray wolf in California since 1922, when the last native wolf was shot and killed by a hunter in San Bernardino. Now, OR-7 is the subject of a dispute among hunters, ranchers and environmentalists as to whether or not to place the gray wolf onto the list of California protected species.
On Wednesday, April 16, representatives from the California Fish and Game Commission will meet at the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach Hotel in Ventura to set forth an agenda and to consider whether or not to put the gray wolf on California’s own protected species list.
Every state has the ability to protect certain species if so inclined, and in the 1990s when the federal government gave states the power to do so, other Pacific states, such as Oregon and Washington, chose to grandfather-in animals from the federal list. California chose not to. On the federal list was the gray wolf, and since California did not consider the gray wolf a threatened species seeing as how there were none in the state, the animal did not make it onto the state’s list for protection.
Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer for the Center for Biological Diversity, says that California’s list should include the gray wolf because, like migratory birds, the gray wolf’s territory covers a swath of land that can include California.
Weiss will speak on the night of Tuesday, April 15, prior to the meeting.
“The [Department of Fish and Wildlife] is making an argument that the coming in and going out after the species has been extirpated is totally unique and totally unprecedented, and that’s simply not true,” said Weiss. “There’s no requirement under the state act that you have a breeding population or a continuous presence of the species.”
Weiss gave an example using the California condor, which, for a period of five years, was extinct in the wild, only seen in captivity through a captive breeding program. Weiss notes that the state of California did not remove the species from the protected species list. Other species, grandfathered-in from the federal list, include the wolverine, the Guadalupe fur seal and other endangered species that have not been seen in the wild for long periods of time.
“For some people the wolf is such a politically charged species that if there was a way to work around the Endangered Species Act, then that might be less of a political hot button,” said Weiss.
On Feb. 5, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife released a much-anticipated report detailing a year’s worth of activity involving the gray wolf in California. The conclusion: The gray wolf is not currently residing in the state and therefore should not be listed as a protected species.
On the same day the report was released, however, gray wolf OR-7 was tracked in California.
In the lower United States, it is estimated that there are between 5,000 and 5,500 gray wolves, according to Weiss. Historically, when the first European settlers arrived in the late 1500s, the gray wolf population reached nearly 2 million, with some 380,000 in the western part of the continent alone.
Most of the opposition to the listing comes from ranchers and, increasingly, from hunters.
In the article “Why Anti-Hunters are Dead Wrong,” penned for the hunting enthusiast magazine Petersen’s Hunting, David Hart reported that increasingly, because of wolves, hunters are abandoning the northern states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming for the south, claiming that with the growing population of gray wolves in the north, hunting has become almost impossible. Faux elk calls attract the wolves that then follow the hunters, scaring away the herds.
In fact, across the country, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has suggested removing the wolf from some states’ protected species lists due to the successful reintroduction of the wolf into the wild. Whereas 300 are considered necessary for a healthy population, some states bordering the Great Lakes have six times that many.
California, as far as anyone can tell based on OR-7’s radio collar, might have upward of 10 that move in and out of the state.
For Weiss, the April 15 meeting of the local Sierra Club and The Center for Biological Diversity before the Commission makes its decision will be an important educational experience for residents of California for whom wolves have not been a part of living with nature.
“Wolves are such a controversial and charismatic species, it’s really important that people get accurate information,” said Weiss. “Wolves aren’t gods and they aren’t devils. Wolves are pretty magnificent and they have a key role in the ecosystem.”
Coincidentally, at the April 16 meeting of the Commission, an item on the agenda would, if passed, prohibit the hunting of predatory animals at contests, tournaments or derbies.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife could not be reached for comment before publication.
The Ventura chapter of the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity will host an evening talk on the gray wolf from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 15, at the City Corps Building, 77 N. California St., Ventura, and a rally (before the California Fish and Game Commission’s meeting) at 7:45 a.m., Wednesday, April 16, at the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach Hotel, 450 E. Harbor Blvd., Ventura. The Commission meeting will begin at 8:30 a.m. The public is welcome to attend any of the events.
For more information and to RSVP to the rally, visit www.biologicaldiversity.org or www.dfg.ca.gov