An all-star team experienced in ranching with wolves came to Quincy on Friday, Nov. 18, to give a workshop put on by the California Wolf Center.
The three primary take home messages passed on at the meeting were:
– Get ready, gray wolves are definitely migrating back into Lassen and Plumas counties and they won’t be going away once they get here.
– Wolves do not kill people.
– Ranchers can continue to profitably raise livestock around wolves if they learn how wolves operate, study their movements throughout their range and adapt their herding skills to those movements.
Extinction of wolves
Gray wolves used to live throughout North America from the Arctic Circle down to Mexico and from the Pacific Ocean east to the Atlantic Ocean.
By the 1940s, however, gray wolves had been exterminated from throughout the lower 48 states, with the exception of northern Minnesota.
The last native wolf killed in California was killed in 1925 in Susanville.
Gray wolves, however, are smart, adaptive, have large litters and are highly mobile.
Wolves begin to migrate out of their home territories when they are 2- to 3-years-old, and when wolf populations begin to exceed the carrying capacity of their prey.
One radio-collared wolf was recorded to have traveled 700 miles in just three months.
In the mid-1980s, gray wolves began migrating south into Montana on their own from Canada, where they had continued to live in high numbers.
At the time, gray wolves were listed as an endangered species in the lower 48 States. This led to the idea of bringing in additional gray wolves from Canada in order to augment the numbers already in the northern Rockies.
In 1995-1996, 31 gray wolves were introduced into both Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho.
Enough of the wolves survived that they started breeding. Within just a few years wolves were dispersing out of Yellowstone and central Idaho into surrounding areas.
By 2011, wolf populations had stabilized in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. By 2015, there were 316 packs (but only 114 breeding pairs) in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.
Earlier this month, a male and female wolf were confirmed to be living in Lassen County. It is only a matter of time before wolves start to populate Lassen and Plumas counties. Carter Niemeyer, a famous wolf expert who spoke at the workshop, estimated that northern California has two to three years to prepare for the arrival of wolves.
How afraid should we be of wolves?
Little Red Riding Hood aside, wolves are mostly afraid of people. They don’t want to get hurt either.
Niemeyer noted once they are sure a human is present, ‘wolves usually put their tails between their legs and slink away.”
Niemeyer said that gray wolves recognize their traditional prey (deer, elk, moose and buffalo) and that is what they hone in on, unless they happen to come across a safe opportunity involving livestock.
There have been only two people killed by wild wolves since World War II: one in Alaska and the other in Saskatchewan, Canada. Niemeyer believes that the death in Alaska was probably caused by a bear rather than by wolves.
To put things into perspective, Niemeyer noted that the migration scenario for wolves in recent years is not that different to what has happened with coyotes over the past 30 years.
Once found all over North America and then removed from throughout much of their range, coyotes have come back. They have adapted to both old and new environments, including suburbs and the edges of cities,
Now, coyotes are once again found throughout the lower 48 states and we have gotten used to that.
Niemeyer criticized the state of Wyoming, which fought wolf reintroduction. This resulted in numerous lawsuits, he said, which are still playing themselves out, and the wolves became established anyway.
How can ranchers coexist with wolves?
This article is one of two in a series. Next week we will outline some of the actions that ranchers and others can take to greatly reduce or eliminate losses from wolves.
Timothy Kaminski, who has worked closely with ranchers in Alberta, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon and Idaho, said at the workshop that “Seven of 10 ranchers don’t believe that just killing wolves is the solution.”
“Ranchers need help. They want information,” said Kaminski.
“Believe it or not” Kaminski added, “there is a solution. And it doesn’t take a lot of bells and whistles to be successful.”