FORTUNA, Calif. — Though no known gray wolves roam here, a divided state Fish and Game Commission disregarded its scientists’ recommendation and voted June 4 to list the species as endangered in California.
A packed meeting room at the River Lodge Convention Center mostly cheered after the panel voted 3-1 for the state listing, with Commissioner Jacque Hostler-Carmesin of nearby McKinleyville dissenting and Commissioner Jim Kellogg of Discovery Bay absent.
Panel chairman Michael Sutton of Monterey said he and other members must “be the best possible stewards” of California’s resources.
“There is no species more iconic to the Western landscape than this one, the gray wolf,” Sutton said, adding he believes that wolves can coexist with livestock as well as elk, deer and other wildlife.
Hostler-Carmesin said she was concerned that a listing now would alienate some members of a working group that’s spent more than two years developing a wolf management plan for the state. The 22-member task force includes representatives from agriculture as well as environmental and sportsmen’s groups.
“I was born and raised in Humboldt County, and I have been in the mountains and seen what you’re all talking about,” Hostler-Carmesin said. “I believe the best course is to follow the department’s directive and not list at this time.”
The commission’s vote followed about two hours of testimony here and another three hours of public comments at its April meeting in Ventura, most of which were in favor of listing the wolf.
The decision comes despite the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s recommendation that the wolf not be listed now, mainly because no packs have yet been established in California. The recommendation was based on a study that was peer-reviewed by seven outside scientists, director Charlton Bonham told the commission.
“Our scientific staff I believe did their job,” he said at the beginning of the hearing. “They’re supposed to put on narrow lenses and look at the available science about California and make a recommendation.”
The Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups requested the petition in 2012, shortly after the arrival of OR-7, the first known gray wolf in California in decades. That wolf has since returned to Oregon and has mated and produced pups.
The decision loomed 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.
At the Ventura hearing April 16, commissioners said they were putting off a decision so they could gather more public input and scientific and legal information. Members said then that they would hold a special meeting in July to decide whether to list the wolf under California’s Endangered Species Act.
But the panel voted to list the species June 4 after hearing emotional and sometimes tearful appeals from environmentalists, students and other proponents, including an elementary-school child dressed in a wolf costume. The proponents said there’s no reason to wait because most agree that wolves will eventually come to the state.
“It’s not a matter of personal preference, it’s a matter of following the California Constitution and the Fish and Game Code,” said Amaroq Weiss, the Center for Biological Diversity’s West Coast wolf organizer.
Several ranchers who attended the meeting said they were worried that wolves would devastate their calves and other livestock, while another said her family’s cow-calf operation uses nonlethal means to ward off predators.
“We need to work together to have a management plan so that all of the animals can survive,” said Lou Mora, president of the Humboldt-Del Norte Cattlemen’s Association. “If we list the wolf, we lose the ability to manage our properties.”
Commissioners said they will formally ratify the listing at their Aug. 6 meeting in San Diego.
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