After the killing of California's last grey wolf in 1924, following decades of undue persecution at the hands of cattle ranchers and trappers, the wild species was never to be seen in the state again.
But now, nearly 90 years later, one wolf appears to be flirting with the idea of changing all that. Researchers recently tracked a young grey wolf's incredible solo trek from the northeastern corner of Oregon to just 30 miles from the California border -- covering 730 perilous miles in just two months. Now, with bated breath, both biologists and ranchers are waiting to see if the wolf will continue its journey south, though for entirely different reasons.
At one time, grey wolves were among the most thriving species in the American west, that is until they were virtually wiped out due to hunting and trapping campaigns aimed at their eradication through the first half of the 20th century. Then in 1995, with hopes of returning an ecosystem's natural predator-prey balance, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduce 66 grey wolves from Canada into Yellowstone National Park. Slowly but steadily, the wolves' populations grew and their habitat grew to include six states.
One wolf, however, seems to be considering adding a seventh.
Using a GPS-equipped collar, biologists have tracked a healthy male grey wolf, known as OR7, across nearly the entire state of Oregon. The wolf appears to have taken a rest just 30 miles from California -- and it would be much deserved. In his trek over the last two months, the hardy wolf crossed dozens of highways and towns, over mountains and forests. If he keeps moving, California could be just two days away.
While news of a likely wolf return has wildlife experts excited, the descendants of their historic adversaries are not quite as enthusiastic:
"It's actually a reason to celebrate," said Suzanne Asha Stone, Northern Rockies representative for the group Defenders of Wildlife, which led the effort to reintroduce wolves to the West. "I didn't think I'd see it in my lifetime."
Cattle and sheep ranchers in the state's northern counties are not among the celebrants. Some are watching OR7's travels with dread.
"We definitely have concerns," said Jack Hanson, a cattle rancher near Susanville and treasurer of the California Cattlemen's Association. "I'm hesitant to say I see a clear road and things will go well."
Ironically, the biggest loser of the wolf's epic trek to California is likely to be the wolf itself. Experts say that the male is probably migrating so far in hopes of finding a mate -- which, as noted earlier, will be decidedly hard to come by. If he does decide to stick around, it may help encourage California wildlife authorities to move more quickly with their own proposal to reintroduce grey wolves in the coming years.
[Via Kansas City Star]