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Wolf specialist discusses new wolves in the state and pack activity

Wolves continue to roam California and new ones are exploring and hunting, according to California Department of Fish and Wildlife Wolf Specialist Kent Laudon. Laudon gave a report on wolf activity in California at a Plumas County Fish and Game Commission meeting June 7.

He said that the Shasta Pack no longer exists because of the death of one or both of the alphas in the pack. There were five pups in the pack, and previous reports by Laudon state that often when a pair’s bond breaks, it encourages early dispersal of the pups.

He speculated that the Lassen Pack still has three out of four yearling pups and the collared alpha female is currently denned up with another litter, but it is unknown how many she has. That would bring the Lassen pack numbers up to seven, not including the new pups.

Residents from Plumas and Lassen counties have reported repeated sightings of the wolves in their areas, and when they can’t see them, they can hear them. Indian Valley echoed with their howling during the long winter evenings.

There were also increased livestock depredation cases. Laudon conducted 12 investigations for potential wolf attacks in California in the past year.

Laudon also said the CDFW has tracked two new wolves from Oregon who have entered and roamed in California, one of which spent significant time in Plumas County and even travelled into Sierra County, which Laudon says is the farthest south a wolf has traveled yet.

The traveling wolves are known as “dispersers” and travel alone at a rate of 7 to 10 miles per day. OR-54, a 2-year-old female, is a member of the Rogue Pack in Oregon. Laudon said typically wolves embark on extraterritorial movement to find food or to find a mate. OR-54’s tracker said she found the Lassen Pack and remained with them for a few hours and departed.

Another disperser wolf is OR-44 who is also an Oregon wolf from the Chesnimnus Packand a male. He has spent most of his time in the Yreka area, but the CDFW has lost track of him after the battery on his collar died.

Laudon said OR-44 was attracted to bone piles in the Scott’s Valley area. He said there was also another black wolf in that area that is not collared. He said one of the best deterrents for wolves is to get rid of carcasses from sick or diseased animals on properties.

The wolves are all the same type of wolves, canis lupus, but they are larger than wolves from the south. Laudon said they are adhering to typical pack behavior. Only the alpha female has a litter, but the yearling pups are proving very independent.

One member of the public at the meeting, Heather Kingdon from Taylorsville, reported that two wolves were sighted in an altercation with a dog, where the dog bit the wolf and the wolves ran off into the forest.

Laudon also said that wolves tend to self-regulate their pack size based on the amount of available food.  The yearlings may choose to disperse from the pack in order to find food or mating opportunities.

Laudon said the Lassen Pack’s territory is large, extending 450 square miles. When he worked with wolves in Montana, their home range was about 200 square miles.

“For how large their territory is, their winter territory was surprisingly small,” Laudon said, referencing the wolves’ stay in the Indian Valley area during the winter.

Ranchers in attendance at the meeting asked for advice on what to do to protect their livestock from wolves, citing the state’s strict regulations on the management and protection of wolves. Since wolves are listed as an endangered species, there are tough penalties if a wolf is harmed or killed.

“It is very upsetting and it takes its toll,” said Kingdon in reference to the livestock depredation cases that occurred over the winter. “To be able to do nothing is very defeating.”

Laudon said the state’s wolf plan proposes a potential compensation strategy for livestock depredation cases.

Laudon and the members of the commission discussed the lack of evidence that wolves are native in California. The commission members discussed the fact that it has been one hundred years since wolves were sighted in California, but there is little record that they were consistently found in the area, especially when compared to the records of elk, grizzly bears and other apex predators in the state.

“It could be considered a non-native species,” said Commissioner Bob Orange.

Laudon said reports on wolf activity by the public have been very useful in connecting the dots that tracking collars do not fill. If anyone sees wolves in the area, they can contact Laudon at 225-2186.

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