FRESNO, Calif. – A state board will consider granting the gray wolf endangered species status on Wednesday, giving it a chance at returning to California in significant numbers after a decades-long hiatus.
Just one wolf from Oregon has been tracked in recent years crossing into Northern California, renewing interest in returning the species to a thriving population. The California Fish and Game Commission will vote on giving the wolf legal protections at a meeting in Ventura.
Advocates such as Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity are hopeful for the wolf's return.
"There's already one wolf here," Greenwald said Tuesday. "It's not going to be long until there's more."
Ranchers remain opposed to the wolf's reintroduction.
"Wolves directly kill livestock and in addition to that they can cause disease and other harm from stress," such as weight loss in animals, said Kirk Wilbur, director of government relations for the California Cattlemen's Association.
The last gray wolf in California was killed in 1924, clearing mountain ranges for cattle herds and other valuable livestock that fall prey to wolves.
Yet if the gray wolf is listed, ranchers not only couldn't kill animals on their property, they couldn't even chase them off, Wilbur said.
"If I see a wolf attacking one of my calves, I can't do anything about that," Wilbur said.
Nationally, wolves were near extinction not long ago. They were reintroduced with federal protections in the 1980s and '90s, Greenwald said.
Wolves now occupy large parts of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon and the Great Lakes.
Federal protections have ended in those two regions, and there is a pending proposal to lift protections across much of the remaining Lower 48 states.
In 2008, a pack started moving into Oregon. That's when the wolf now drawing interest for hopscotching into California became known as OR-7 — he was the seventh Oregon wolf fitted with a GPS tracking collar.