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CA verifies second wolf pack

Cattle and Beef Industry News
Jul 14, 2017

— Three pups photographed

A trail cam captures the three new Lassen Pack pups at the end of June.
U.S. Forest Service photo

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has confirmed the presence of a second pack of gray wolves in Northern California. In early May, partner biologists from the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) found evidence of recent wolf presence in the Lassen National Forest. CDFW biologists began surveying the area and planning a capture operation to collar one of the animals. On June 30, after 12 days of trapping attempts, a 75-pound adult female gray wolf was captured in Lassen County.

The wolf was examined, fitted with a tracking collar and released. During the exam wildlife biologists collected genetic and biological samples. “The anesthesia and collaring process went smoothly and the wolf was in excellent condition,” said CDFW’s Senior Wildlife Veterinarian, Dr. Deana Clifford. “Furthermore, our physical examination indicated that she had given birth to pups this spring.”

The following day, July 1, CDFW biologists returned to the field for a routine follow-up check on the female. They encountered tracks of what appeared to be wolf pups, and then found that a nearby trail camera operated by USFS had captured photos of the female with three pups.

CDFW said in a news release that during summer and fall 2016, remote trail cameras captured images of two wolves traveling together in Lassen County. There was no evidence they had pro duced pups at that time. While the female’s origins remain unknown, genetic samples obtained from scat indicated the male wolf originated from Oregon’s Rogue Pack. The famous wolf OR7 is the Rogue Pack’s breeding male.

These wolves, named the Lassen Pack by the USFS employee who first detected their location, are the second pack of gray wolves known in California since their disappearance from the area in the 1920s, according to CDFW. The first confirmed breeding pair in California produced five pups in eastern Siskiyou County in 2015, and are known as the Shasta Pack. The current status of the Shasta Pack is unknown, although one of the 2015 pups was detected in northwestern Nevada in November 2016, CDFW said.

The Lassen female is the first wolf residing in California to be radio-collared; though wolves radio-collared by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife have previously ventured into California, such as OR-7 and OR-25; those wolves have ultimately returned to Oregon.

The tracking collar will collect data relative to her activity patterns, survival, reproduction and prey preferences. The Lassen Pack regularly traverses both public and private lands, including industrial timberlands, and the collar may also help to minimize wolflivestock conflicts by providing information about the pack’s location relative to livestock and ranch lands. While most of the pack’s known activity to date has been in western Lassen County, some tracks have also been confirmed in Plumas County, CDFW said in its release.

WLJ reached out to CDFW to ask how information about wolf activity will be relayed to livestock producers, but as of press time had not received a response.

Kirk Wilbur, director of government affairs at the California Cattlemen’s Association (CCA), told WLJ that CDFW reached out to CCA before publicizing the collaring and discovery of the three wolf pups for which he is appreciative. As for notification of livestock producers regarding wolf activity, Wilbur said that he doesn’t yet have those specific details as most of his discussions with CDFW have been mostly “big picture.” He added that it appears producer notification will be somewhat “generalized” so as to not disclose wolves’ precise location.

Asked if the notifications are good enough to alert ranchers, Wilbur said that is yet to be seen. He explained, “There will still be a superhuman burden on ranchers to protect their livestock without violating CESA [California Endangered Species Act]—remember that even scaring away a wolf on ATV is an illegal pursuit, or a “take” under CESA—but if the generalized information that the department provides ranchers avoids livestock depredations, then it’s definitely better than the alternative.”

Wilbur went on to explain that even with notifications of wolf presence it is not “real-time” reporting because GPS collars aren’t “real time.” Instead data is uploaded at specified intervals. The time period for producer notification is unknown, leaving a level of uncertainty in ranchers’ efforts to protect their livestock, according to Wilbur.

Effectively managing wolves and protecting livestock is a priority for CCA members who passed a policy resolution in 2015 saying, “Therefore, be it resolved, that the California Cattlemen’s Association support the collaring of as many wolves as possible with GPS tracking collars and a policy that real-time locations be made available to livestock producers when a wolf is in their area.”

DOI funding

In related news on the federal level, on July 11, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies introduced a funding bill (http:// tinyurl.com/Fund-DOI) that cuts funding for the Department of the Interior (DOI) and, among other things, calls for reissuance of a 2011 rule listing the gray wolf, and says that the reissued rule will not be subject to judicial review.

Additionally, Section 117 of the bill, pertaining to gray wolves range-wide reads, “None of the funds made available by this act may be used by the secretary of the interior to treat any gray wolf in any of the 48 contiguous states or the District of Columbia as an endangered species or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 7 (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).”

Ethan Lane, executive director, Public Lands Council and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Federal Lands, told WLJ he believes this is a practical decision by the appropriations committee. “The Fish and Wildlife Service has been very clear that gray wolves are recovered in the United States, he said. “So, spending the money somewhere else, where a species needs the help is really just a practical use of limited resources on behalf of the appropriators.”

Environmental interest groups have a different opinion. Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said, “House Republicans are waging a despicable war on wolves and other species trying to escape extension. You don’t need to kill wolves to keep the federal government running— this is nothing more than a giveaway to special interests that would dismantle the Endangered Species Act.”

Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark also commented on the proposed funding bill, saying, “The House’s dirty budget would gut vital protections for our natural heritage and wildlife, especially for endangered species, including wolves.”

She went on to say the wolf rider means “certain death for America’s wolves.” Rappaport Clark concluded, “This rider makes a mockery of the Endangered Species Act. It leaves America’s wolves sitting in the ESA emergency room and orders our wildlife agencies not to treat them. The drastic cut in funding for new species under the ESA will result in further delays in listing decisions for many deserving species, leading to longer recovery times, or possibly even more extinctions.”

The provision prohibiting spending additional money on gray wolf recovery would not end federal protections of gray wolves.

Wilbur commented on the appropriations language, saying, “The Endangered Species Act was never meant to protect listed species in perpetuity, but merely to ensure that they’re not at risk of extinction. Gray wolves have enjoyed enormous population growth throughout their range in recent years, and no reasonable person can conclude that the species is now threatened with extinction.

“Nevertheless, the species remains listed under the federal ESA, preventing states from implementing meaningful wildlife management, and in many cases preventing livestock producers from ensuring the welfare of their animals.”

Under the Obama administration, USFWS recognized that gray wolves had recovered in the U.S., and in 2013 proposed delisting the species nationwide. That delisting effort has been complicated by litigation from environmental groups challenging prior sciencebased delisting decisions in the Great Lakes and Wyoming, Wilbur explained.

“The proposed appropriations language is an important step toward ensuring that the law reflects the reality that wolves are recovered, and CCA welcomes any legislative action that makes progress toward opening the door for meaningful wolf management,” Wilbur told WLJ.

The funding resolution was set for subcommittee markup last Wednesday. At press time information from that meeting was not available. However, Lane said any substantive changes likely would not take place until it reaches the full appropriations committee in the next few weeks.

Gray wolves are currently both state and federally listed as endangered. Their management in California is guided by endangered species laws as well as CDFW’s Conservation Plan for Gray Wolves in California, finalized in 2016. CD- FW said its goals for wolf management in California include conserving wolves and minimizing impacts to livestock producers and native ungulates.

Wilbur noted, “CCA is working to secure delisting of the wolf at both the federal and state levels to ensure that the department [CDFW] and producers have more options at their disposal to protect livestock.”

Rae Price, WLJ editor

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