Four years ago, two wolves had a litter of five pups in the shadow of Mount Shasta, marking the first time in nearly a century that gray wolves were born in the state. Named the “Shasta Pack,” the wolves have found a place in California wildlife history, becoming an internet sensation and inspiring new wolf protection laws in California.
Now, the pack has vanished. And quietly, wildlife officials are investigating the case as a murder.
When the Shasta Pack pups were born in Modoc County, environmentalists praised it as a revival of wolf populations in Northern California, but local ranchers saw it as a threat to their livestock. While officials attempt to track NorCal wolves, it proves nearly impossible and sometimes they disappear for long stretches, only to reappear in a different area later on. But with recent developments with wolf protections in the state and continued conflict with ranchers, some think the vanishing of the pack is no accident.
In December of 2011, a lone wolf dubbed 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.
Just weeks ago, 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?
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.
On December 2, 2018, a wolf dubbed OR-59 traveled into NorCal from Oregon wearing a GPS collar. Three days later, it was spotted feasting on the carcass of a local calf. Although investigators indicated the calf died from a pneumonia, ranchers saw it as vindication of their wolf worries. On December 9, OR-59’s tracker indicated it had died and investigators have provided little details into where or how it perished.
Fast-forward to the Shasta Pack, who have terrorized ranchers for years in Siskiyou County. After a tense standoff with ranchers, the wolves were found feeding on a carcass. They haven’t been seen since, which brings many questions for environmentalists and wildlife officials alike.
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. Is it just a coincidence that the pack left the area after the standoff, or did ranchers take the livelihood of their cattle into their own hands?
The Shasta Pack isn’t the only famous wolfpack in NorCal. The Lassen Pack, a family with lineage to the famed OR-7, resides comfortable in Lassen and Plumas Counties. The parents have had two litters, but have also been seen killing cattle in Lassen County.
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.
As the beautiful wolves travel through the area, can they get along with local ranchers? Or is the bloody battle between wolves and ranchers just getting started?