Last Wednesday, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to move forward with listing the gray wolf as an endangered species under California Endangered Species Act (CESA). The vote, which took place at the regularly scheduled commission meeting in Fortuna, CA, passed 3 to 1, despite recommendation against the listing from the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW).
The commission heard testimony from roughly 60 members of the public, including a number of cattlemen, prior to delivering its decision, according to a letter sent out to the California Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) members. While the news was not necessarily unexpected, it does open the door for some new challenges for producers in the state.
“I wouldn’t say we are surprised, but we are definitely disappointed,” Kirk Wilbur, Director of Government Relations at California Cattlemen’s Association, told Western Livestock Journal.
“Immediately there isn’t a huge impact,” Wilbur pointed out, in part because there are no known wolves in the state, and they are still federally listed. But the “what next” remains to be seen.
“What this does change is the impacts for the future,” Wilbur said.
Prior to the listing announcement, news broke that Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) had identified two wolf pups born to the popular male wolf known as OR-7, confirming suspicions that another wolf identified in May was OR-7’s mate.
While OR-7 has been known to travel throughout Northern California in the past, there are no confirmed gray wolves in California.
The listing comes as a blow to California ranchers, who will be severely limited in their ability to protect their livestock. CESA prohibits “take” of an endangered species, which means that no person may “hunt, pursue, catch, capture, or kill, or attempt to hunt, pursue, capture, or kill” a gray wolf in California. Under this definition of “take,” even a benign act such as a rancher scaring a wolf away from cattle on an ATV may constitute an illegal act, as this could be interpreted as a “pursuit” in violation of CE- SA, according to CCA’s letter.
Exceedingly few wolf management options remain on the table, and those that remain have limited effectiveness in deterring wolf attacks on livestock.
The Commission’s decision is also a blow to the Wolf Management Plan in development by DFW in collaboration with a Stakeholder Working Group, of which CCA is currently a member.
DFW Director Chuck Bonham, in recommending that the commission not list the gray wolf, emphasized that the management plan was a better mechanism for managing a gray wolf population in California that is likely to emerge, as it seeks to strike a balance between the various interest groups and provide a plan palatable to all stakeholders. After many months of hard work in the Stakeholder Working Group, the listing decision takes many management options off the table.
Though the listing decision does not immediately change management practices for the gray wolf, it does extremely limit any future management, according to Wilbur. Currently, the gray wolf is protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act. However, the gray wolf is currently being considered for federal delisting by the USFWS, so the species may soon lose its federal listing status. Thus, while the commission”s decision does not impact the immediate potential for wolf management, it greatly diminishes opportunities for wolf management subsequent to US- FWS’s potential delisting decision.
According to CCA, more ranchers came to listen and support their fellow ranchers, providing a much more favorable atmosphere than at the commission hearing in Ventura on April 16. Speakers reminded the commission of the numerous benefits ranchers bestow upon the environment and other endangered and threatened species, and cautioned that the threat of the gray wolf may diminish ranchers’ ability to maintain their livelihood and to continue their environmental stewardship.
Commissioners Richard Rogers, Jack Baylis and Michael Sutton voted for listing, while Commissioner Jacque Hostler-Carmesin voted no. Commissioner Jim Kellogg was not present.
“No land animal is more iconic in the American West than the Gray Wolf,” said Sutton, who also is President of the commission.
“Wolves deserve our protection as they begin to disperse from Oregon to their historic range in California.”
Wolf advocates at the Center for Biological Diversity filed the petition made final Wednesday two months after OR-7 was discovered crossing into California. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor