The Plumas County Fish and Game Commission dove into the wolf controversy at its regular meeting on Nov. 2. Guest speaker Kent Laudon, the new wolf specialist with the California Department Fish and Wildlife, answered an onslaught of questions about the wolf plan in California, the nature of the Lassen wolf pack and their predation patterns, specifically with livestock.
“One of the things with wolves is that legend far exceeds reality,” Laudon said in a round table question and answer session. “We are just trying to get the information out there about what is going on … There is maybe a little bit of hoopla out there that is not entirely accurate.”
There are two confirmed wolf packs in California for the first time since the 1920s. There is a pack in the Shasta area and now officially a pack in Lassen county after a female birthed four pups by a male descendant of OR7, the wandering wolf that found his way to California.
Laudon said his crew is not sure where the female came from. The pack is now made up of an estimated seven wolves, the alpha female, the OR7 descendent, their four pups and a rogue black wolf that comes and goes from the pack.
He said their territory averages about 250 square miles, mostly in Lassen County, but they have recorded activity in Plumas County. The alpha female is radio collared and tracked every three hours.
Laudon has extensive experience in Montana, Idaho and New Mexico on reestablishing gray wolves to the areas. Gray wolves are on the endangered species list in California and the goal with wolf population recovery is to foster pack growth and development while balancing the availability of prey and managing wolf-livestock conflicts.
Laudon said CDWF was caught by surprise when the wolves moved in so quickly. It has only been two years since the sighting of OR7.
“There is no recovery effort in Northern California and I think that is because folks didn’t see it coming,” he said.
A recovery process typically sets up rules like permission to shoot if a wolf is caught in the act of killing livestock or a compensation plan if wolves kill livestock. A final conservation plan for wolves was finished in December 2016, but it still left many questions unanswered.
There have been two recent confirmed predation occurrences by wolves on livestock in Plumas and Lassen counties. Ranchers at the commission meeting posed questions about how to protect their livestock. Laudon said they are still doing studies on the most effective ways, but he said there has been success with reducing the size of the pastures to keep cows tighter in a herd. He also said fox lights have been effective.
Laudon said more often than not, wolves do not go for cattle. They are an unfamiliar prey to wolves and “cows can be a force to be reckoned with.”
He did say that wolves are scavengers so they will utilize dead carcasses rendered so by other animals such as lions.
He also mentioned that wolf hybrids are more likely to be killed by wolves than join their pack. Wolves have been known to attack coyotes and larger predators like bears and bear cubs.
The introduction of wolves in the area can have an effect on hunting tags as well.
“Because we are dealing with an animal on the endangered species list, we are going to have to protect their food source,” said Commissioner Dave Valle, citing concern about the growing elk herds in California.
For now, it seems like the wolf packs are here to stay and Laudon said the prey will dictate their size. If there is little prey, the packs will remain small.
For more information on the two wolf packs, visit wildlife.ca.gov/conservation/mammals/gray-wolf .