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Gray wolf makes historic trek into San Luis Obispo County

wolf pic courtesy Austin Smith Jr.jpg
Posted at 10:41 PM, Apr 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-07 01:41:27-04

A gray wolf named OR-93 is on a historic journey in search for a mate.

The tracking device on his collar shows he has made his way into San Luis Obispo County, all the way from Oregon.

Experts say it is likely this is the first time a gray wolf has made its way into San Luis Obispo County in over a century.

Finding out a gray wolf has made it into the county is thrilling for local wildlife experts.

"I'm seeing this wild wolf in SLO County as something akin to the moonwalk. I had that same kind of awe and expectation," Mike Lehane, Executive Director of The Wolf's Reign, said.

Through GPS technology on its collar, wildlife conservationists are able to follow the wolf OR-93's daily journey in search of a mate.

"So you have this wild animal out there on the landscape, making life and death decisions on a daily basis and we get to be spectators. It's a rather awesome ecological phenomenon of how the wolf population is going to recover," Cal Poly Professor of Wildlife Management, John Perrine, said.

Experts say wolves were pushed out of the state in the 1920s and are slowly making a comeback.

The fact this wolf has left his pack is not unusual, but how far he has gone is — traveling from Oregon to the Central Coast.

wolf map1.PNG

"A wolf or wolf packs can often travel between 30 and 40 miles a day. They're running on average at 15 miles per hour at a trot, but they don't do that continuously unless they're headed somewhere," Lehane explained.

According to local experts, SLO County does not make a good habitat for a wolf. They say it's actually incredibly dangerous for the animal to be here, with traffic likely being its biggest threat.

"We have very few roads here that have fences along the edges to prevent the animals from crossing onto the roads," Lehane said.

W.H.A.R. Wolf Rescue in Paso Robles is hoping this will bring more attention to wolves and wolf hybrids.

"I hope that people find more of a curiosity to this and excitement and [they] want to get involved helping in the conservation of having gray wolves back in California because it can change a lot of things from a natural standpoint," Melanie Krutsinger, CEO of W.H.A.R. Wolf Rescue, said.

A spokesperson for the California Department Fish and Wildlife says in a statement:

At the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, we believe this is a great ecological story that wolves have returned to their historic habitat. Much of California was historic wolf habitat, but in the almost 100 years since their absence, the landscape has changed drastically. We hope it’s a sign of positive habitat management and applying the right regulations and management plans to prepare for their return. We always believed they would come back, it was a matter of when, not if. But we also always knew it would be met with mixed emotion. On one hand, gray wolves are an iconic species, important to our Tribes and state folklore, and Californians are very passionate about them. They are charismatic megafauna in California. On the other hand, as I mentioned, the landscape has changed. Much of their historic habitat is used for large-scale livestock production and the return of wolves represents an additional apex predator that producers have to contend with (already there are coyotes and mountain lions throughout the state). So, at CDFW it’s our job to manage the species for conservation, which entails making decisions based on the latest available science, while also considering impacts to the public (received through public comment). Considering the many varied viewpoints from a wide variety of different stakeholders in order to make management decisions is a position we are accustomed to being in.

We also reached out to the San Luis Obispo County Cattlemen’s Association for their thoughts on what a return of wolves could mean for local livestock.

The organization says in part:

I would like to dispel any rumors that ranchers are out to harm the wolves, the only matter that we are concerned with is the health and well-being of our livestock. There are many laws out there that protect the wolves, CESA being one of them (California Endangered Species Act) protects anyone from shooting at or pursuing wolves... Our cattle in this area are fortunate to have great temperaments and many times are pastured on lands with hiking trails and co-mingle with human activity and pets. If OR-93 does start to prey on our cattle, there is a possibility that a change in the behavior of the cattle could definitely take place.

OR-93 is the 16th gray wolf documented to have come into California from Oregon, however, a majority of the other wolves did not go past the state's northernmost counties.