For eons, gray wolves roamed the northern stretches of the United States. When Europeans settled here, they systematically hunted them down until the species was perilously close to extinction. Like the grizzly bear that adorns our state flag, gray wolves were erased from every corner of California.
In 1974, the gray wolf was added to the Endangered Species List. In 1995, the gray wolf was reintroduced to the western United States in an effort to give the animals a chance to live in their former habitats.
Since then, the gray wolf has made a remarkable comeback. Experts estimate that between 1,700 and 3,000 wolves now live in the western United States. They are beginning to thrive again.
But they still have a long way to go. Even if 3,000 wolves live in the entirety of the western states, they are a vanished species, struggling to survive in a world of cattle, sheep and horse ranches.
So far, exactly one gray wolf — dubbed OR7 by biologists — has crossed the border from Oregon into California. He wandered around Siskiyou, Lassen, Shasta and Modoc counties, occasionally wandering back into Oregon.
Apparently, some ranchers and politicians think this is a threat to the survival of the Siskiyou cattle industry. The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors is considering a new law to ban the presence of wolves in the county and empower any rancher who sees one to shoot it on sight.
The time when wolves were a serious threat to humans, cattle, sheep and goats has passed. When and if gray wolves appear in numbers sufficient to threaten the ranching industry, some sort of population management may be in order.
The proposal by the officials in Siskiyou County is out of proportion to the threat that one lone gray wolf represents. Frankly, The San Francisco Examiner is left wondering why the Siskiyou board is even considering this law.
Two weeks ago, OR7 was spotted in Modoc County, lurking near a colony of coyotes. Coyotes and wolves do not usually get along; they are natural rivals, after all. The only explanation, a state Department of Fish and Game official told the San Francisco Chronicle, is that OR7 is lonely. He has wandered 1,000 miles through Oregon’s forests for months, looking for a mate or a pack to bond with.
In a state that is consistently on the forefront of environmental protections, allowing Siskiyou County to approve the killing of OR7 or any other wolves is appalling. We urge the county supervisors to table this issue until such time as gray wolves are an actual threat to ranchers, instead of the silent, rare, social and beautiful creatures they are today.