A gray wolf (canis lupus) has been observed in counties of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, with the animal returning to territory from which it’s been absent from for nearly a century. The GPS-tracked wolf, designated OR-93, has traveled south from Oregon, passing through Modoc County and Alpine County. Most recently, the wolf entered Mono County.
The journey of the young male wolf represents new territorial range from the species. Biologists believe it’s possible the wolf’s presence could result in the formation of new wolf packs in the Sierra Nevada region, should the animal prove successful in returning to the area with a mate. The wolf broke off from Oregon’s White River Pack southeast of Mt. Hood sometime within the past few months. Previously, wolves that ventured into California from Oregon didn’t travel south of Lake Tahoe, the single largest alpine lake in North America, that straddles the California-Nevada border.
“OR-93’s historic trek so far south into California’s central Sierra Nevada is thrilling news for wolf recovery throughout the West,” said Pamela Flick, director of the California preservation group Defenders of Wildlife. “OR-93 also importantly brings the potential for increased genetic diversity to our state.”
Wolves were dealt with as pestilence during the American settlement of the western United States, and the animals still pose a threat to the livestock of ranchers to this day. The animals were eliminated from the state of California entirely sometime in the 1920’s, and a gray wolf was seen in California for the first time in almost a century in 2011.
Wolf attacks on humans are extremely rare, although if the population is restored in Eastern California, farmers and ranchers will have to find deterrents for threats to their livestock. The presence of wolves in the region can serve as a benefit to the local ecosystem, assisting to keep the population levels of destructive animals in check.