The Plumas County Board of Supervisors heard about the newest residents of Plumas County at its regular meeting July 17. Kent Laudon, the senior environmental specialist for wolves with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the wolves are settling right in to life in Plumas, Lassen and Sierra counties.
Laudon presented an update to the board on the wolf population in the state. He said there is now only one pack in the state, a few roaming wolves, and new pups. The first pack to establish in the state, the Shasta Pack, does not exist anymore. That could mean they all dispersed or did not survive.
The second pack, the Lassen Pack, is healthy and growing now that the breeding female has up to five pups at her side. The new pups and the approximately three yearlings she had last year bring the pack’s numbers up to at least 10.
California is also seeing wolf immigrants and not just natural born citizens. Two dispersing wolves, or wolves that have left their pack to find food or mates, have roamed around Northern California. The two wolves travel alone, and though they are a male and a female, they have not met up.
OR-44, a male wolf from Oregon, has traveled over 1,600 miles and was last tracked in Scott Valley in Siskiyou County. Laudon said his collar batteries have since expired and they have lost track of him.
OR-54 is a female wolf, also from Oregon, but from a different pack, which has seemed to settle in Plumas County in Sierra Valley. She is traveling alone, and has not joined the Lassen Pack. Laudon said the wolves are territorial and it would be dangerous for OR-54 to attempt to join them.
Ranchers in Sierra Valley have reported frequent sightings of OR-54 but there has been no confirmed wolf attacks or depredations in the area.
Laudon said he has been working with ranchers and public authorities to get the word out when a wolf is in their area. He said he has also been working with ranchers on wolf deterrents, such as fox lights which flash sporadically and scare the wolves away.
According to Laudon, the main attraction for wolves to a ranch is bone piles or carcasses from dead animals. He said it is imperative that ranchers clean up any animal remains and properly bury them to avoid peaking a wolf’s interest.
In terms of available prey, Laudon said that in his opinion, deer density seems low in the summer, but high in the winter, which is probably the reason the wolves stuck around Plumas County during the cold months. There have been a couple of cases of wolf depredation on livestock with the Lassen Pack, but Laudon said coyotes and other prey are much more destructive than wolves.
After a recent situation in Washington where a forest service employee climbed a tree to evade a pack of barking wolves, Laudon shed light on the territorial behavior of the wolves. He said he would personally much rather venture into the territory of wolves than other predators. He said wolves are very anxious and tentative. They bark and howl to intimidate, but will not stalk or attack like mountain lions or grizzly bears.
The population of the Lassen Pack may change during the fall. Wolf packs are self-regulating, which means if packs get too big to sustain themselves, then wolves will disperse from the pack to other areas. Laudon said if the pack stayed the size it is over the winter, he would be more concerned about livestock depredation, but the fall will determine if the yearlings will stay or go.
Because wolves are listed as endangered in California, harming a wolf is a federal offense. He said the state is discussing a reimbursement program in cases where wolves attack livestock.
Laudon and the CDWF rely on information collected through radio collars on the wolves. If they hear of uncollared wolves throughout the area, Laudon will attempt to trap the wolf, sedate it and put a collar on it for monitoring. Right now, the breeding female is the only collared wolf in the Lassen Pack, and it sends a signal every three hours. Laudon said it is extremely helpful for members of the public to report sightings of the wolves, collared or not, so he can get a better idea of their patterns.
He directed the board and members of the public to visit wildlife.ca.gov under the Gray Wolf tab to report sightings, sign up for alerts an email updates, and learn more about the conservation and management plan of the wolves.