California game officials, going against the tide of bounty hunting in other states, voted last week to protect gray wolves under the state’s Endangered Species Act.
The California Fish and Game Commission’s 3-1 vote means that a wolf called OR-7 (because he was the 7th wolf radio-collared in Oregon) will be allowed to live in peace in Northern California.
The move comes just in time for the once-lone wolf, who’s reportedly found a mate and has a litter of pups living in the Oregon portion of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest that straddles the California-Oregon border, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
"This is a great day for wolf recovery in the West," said Amaroq Weiss, the Center's West Coast wolf organizer. "I'm just so thrilled that we have a new wolf family in southern Oregon and that these beautiful animals are finally getting protection in California. This is the first chapter in a longer story of wolves returning to California and living here in the wild."
As in most states across the Western US and beyond, wolves were driven to extinction by over-hunting in the 19th and 20th centuries.
When OR-7 turned up in Northern California in 2011, he was the first wolf known to make the state his home since the 1920s.
OR-7 apparently found a mate among the growing population of wolves in Oregon, where the species remains protected, and last week biologists confirmed that the pair had a litter of two pups, the CBD reported.
The pups could be the beginning of a new wolf population in the Cascades, a prospect that has excited champions of biodiversity, because other states, such as Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, have allowed aggressive bounty hunting of wolves starting in 2011. Wolf populations in those states, and in the Upper Midwest, have declined dramatically since the federal government removed Endangered Species Act protections for the animals opening the way for hunting.
Congress also has proposed lifting Endangered Species Protections for wolves across all of the US states, a strange move, given that few wolves live in any states beyond those where protections have already been lifted.
"Wolves are at a critical moment," said Weiss. "The federal government is proposing to strip federal protection from these animals across the country, including states like California where wolves are just starting to return. This makes state protection essential, and is all the more reason to celebrate this historic decision by the commission this and remarkable news about this new wolf family."