VENTURA, Calif. – After hearing nearly three hours of testimony April 16, a state panel put off a decision on whether to extend endangered species protections to the gray wolf in California.
The state Fish and Game Commission will gather more public input and scientific and legal information and will reach a decision on whether to list the wolf under California’s Endangered Species Act at a special meeting in July, members agreed.
The move was partly to accommodate a request by state Sen. Ted Gaines and Assemblyman Brian Dahle, both Republicans, that no decision be made until the state heard from Northern California residents who would likely be affected sooner by the wolf’s migration into the state.
The commission will take more testimony on the wolf at its regular meeting June 4 in Fortuna, Calif., members said.
Commissioner Richard Rogers, a fourth-generation rancher from Santa Barbara, said he believes the wolf will be listed eventually, if not this year.
“To me the listing of wolves in California is absolutely inevitable,” he said. “That is going to happen given the laws of the state of California … Our laws are not going to allow us to escape that.”
The panel tabled its decision after hearing from nearly 70 speakers who crammed into a small conference room at the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach Hotel here, most of whom spoke in favor of listing the wolf. An overflow crowd listened as the proceedings were piped into other rooms, and the hearing was streamed online.
Noelle Cremers, the California Farm Bureau Federation’s natural resources and commodities director, objected to some speakers’ characterization that livestock producers “want to kill all wolves,” she said.
“I would strongly disagree,” Cremers said. “Ranchers work with wildlife and want to protect wildlife … However, wolves are dangerous predators and they (ranchers) want to protect their livestock. If wolves are listed, they will be severely impacted.”
Cremers said ranchers would be willing to try nonlethal means to ward off wolves, but “we’ve been told that they could shout or throw rocks in the air” if the wolves were listed.
“We find that fairly limiting,” she said.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife has recommended not listing the wolf now, mainly because no packs have yet been established in the state. However, director Charlton Bonham told the commission his agency could declare wolves a “species of special concern” and administratively bar or regulate killing them even in cases of depredation.
“It’s reasonable to conclude … that California may have a functioning pack of wolves within the next 10 years,” Bonham told the panel. “The department’s interest is in managing the state’s diverse fish wildlife and the plants and habitat they depend on. Re-establishing species is a goal that excites the department, and this is true for the wolf.”
The California Cattlemen’s Association and other ranching groups have opposed the listing, arguing a proliferation of wolves would endanger their livestock as well as elk, deer and other wildlife. The CCA sent an appeal to members to attend the meeting or send written comments to the DFW.
The decision looms as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been considering a proposal to remove federal Endangered Species Act protections for the gray wolf in the Lower 48 states. Federal officials have said reintroduction programs have been a success and the animal no longer needs listing.
The Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups requested the state listing in 2012, shortly after the arrival of OR-7, the first known gray wolf to enter California in decades. That wolf has since returned to Oregon.
“Gray wolves are endangered in California,” Amaroq Weiss, the center’s West Coast wolf organizer, told the commission. “Everything we know points to listing.”
The DFW’s preliminary study last fall found there isn’t a need for such a listing, partly because there are no wolves established here. Bonham first indicated in February he agreed with his scientists’ recommendation, although he said in the hearing the lack of an established population was just one of several issues the commission must consider.
A working group has been developing a wolf management plan in California. Bonham said its members have met with boards of supervisors in 16 counties over the last two years and talked with Farm Bureau officials, cattlemen’s associations, sportsmen’s groups and the environmental community.
“We’re committed to the long-term prospect of wolf being in California,” Bonham said. “Getting from here to there is a separate issue.”
California Department of Fish and Wildlife wolf page: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/nongame/wolf/
California Fish and Game Commission: http://www.fgc.ca.gov