Another endangered gray wolf was found dead in Northern California this week and fish and wildlife officials are investigating its killing. The 4-year-old female wolf was found dead in Shasta County on February 5th, but California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials did not indicate where the wolf was found or its cause of death.
The wolf, dubbed OR-59 was part of the Rogue Pack in Southern Oregon and was equipped with a tracking collar. The wolf travelled into Siskiyou County from Oregon in January 2018 and has travelled around 7,600 miles throughout NorCal since. She was the daughter of OR-7 who famously crossed into NorCal from Oregon in 2011, becoming the first known gray wolf in California in 80 years.
“This is a tragic development for the early stages of wolf recovery in California,” said Amaroq Weiss, a wolf advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Like her dad, the famous wolf OR-7 who came to California years ago, OR-54 was a beacon of hope who showed that wolves can return and flourish here. Her death is devastating, no matter the cause,” she said.
OR-54 became known as a brazen traveler throughout NorCal, venturing further south than any other known gray wolf. In September 2019, she traveled south of I-80 near Sacramento and briefly went into Nevada, before returning north to Shasta County.
The revelation of the wolf’s death sat on the precipice of the investigation into the killing of OR-59 in Modoc County, with a reward of $7,500 being offered for information into the investigation. The investigation remains unsolved, as anyone found guilty could face criminal charges in the killing of an endangered wolf.
“We hope OR-54 died a natural death and wasn’t killed illegally,” Weiss said. “The return of wolves is a major environmental milestone in our state, and the vast majority of Californians want to see wolves recovered here.”
The revival of wolves in Northern California remains a controversial topic in rural communities. The fascinating animals diversify the local ecosystems while creating legitimate arguments between conservation and protecting personal property.
In December of 2011, OR-7 wandered across the Oregon border into California, traveling as far south as Butte County before eventually returning to Oregon. It was the first time a gray wolf was seen in the state since the early 1900’s and was the beginning of a long battle between cattle ranchers and environmentalists, who have different views of the animals place in the state.
The famed Shasta Pack, which had terrorized cattle ranchers in Siskiyou County for years, went missing in late-2018, leading some to believe they were murdered by fed up ranches. Ranchers claim that their standoffs and run-ins with loggers eventually scared the pack out of the area. But the ongoing poaching case shows little faith in that theory.
In 2019, environmentalists scored a victory when a San Diego Superior Court Judge tossed out a case filed by California farming and ranching associations that challenged the protective status of wolves in the state. With their livelihoods at stake, are ranchers killing these rare wolves to protect their cattle?
Today, the Lassen Pack remains California’s only known wolfpack, welcoming a litter of three new pups in 2019. The Lassen Pack is the descendant of famed OR-7 and currently resides in the wilderness near Lassen County.
Wildlife officials in Oregon have claimed that 15 wolves have been illegally killed in recent years, with just two people being prosecuted for those deaths. In California, wolf killers could face years in prison.