SACRAMENTO — At least to an extent, wolf and ranching advocates agreed on one thing during a Feb. 1 workshop on California’s proposed gray wolf management plan.
Both sides said their goal was for wolves to flourish without posing a threat to livestock.
Karin Vardaman, who leads a wolf recovery project for the California Wolf Center, said the organization wants to provide training and grants for ranchers to develop nonlethal tools for protecting their animals from the predators.
“We believe these nonlethal tools are key to the wolf’s recovery,” Vardaman told officials from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife during the public meeting at Sacramento’s DoubleTree hotel, which drew about 100 people.
“We have an incredible opportunity to leave a new legacy for future generations,” she said. “I hope that when this plan is finalized, it will conserve wolves and also give support for our livestock communities.”
One key tool for ranchers would be communication, asserted Kirk Wilbur, the California Cattlemen’s Association’s director of government relations. Many ranchers in Siskiyou and Modoc counties, where wolves are present, rely on “rumors” that the predators are nearby because they haven’t heard from the department, Wilbur said.
“We need to work on communication between the department and the ranchers up there,” he said. “The other issue is the lack of adequate tools for preventing wolf-livestock conflicts.”
Wilbur lamented that state restrictions against even “harassing” wolves make it more difficult for ranchers to drive them off. Eric Simon, a San Mateo, Calif., filmmaker, agreed.
“To me if you have an ATV and you drive it toward a wolf to get it off your property, that’s actually an effective nonlethal method,” Simon said.
Erica Sanko of the California Wool Growers Association criticized the DFW for not consulting with federal agencies such as the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which have more experience dealing with livestock interactions with predators.
“A significant concern among sheep producers has been the elimination of lethal take of wolves as a tool” in cases of depredation, Sanko said.
The remarks from about 40 people came amid the agency’s third meeting to gather input on the wolf plan, for which it is taking written comments through Feb. 15. A workshop Jan. 21 in Yreka drew about 300 people, and another Jan. 26 in Long Beach had about 150 attendees.
Announced Dec. 2, the draft wolf plan includes sections on wolves’ interactions with livestock, horses and other wildlife. A protocol for livestock producers suggests they take certain measures to prevent depredation, such as removing diseased animals or carcasses that could attract wolves, fencing off livestock, installing motion-sensor lights and using range riders to guard herds.
For ranchers, the wolf plan has taken on an added sense of urgency after California’s first suspected wolf depredation on a calf in Siskiyou County in late fall, when ranchers say they came upon five wolves feeding on a dead calf in a meadow. Fish and Wildlife classified the Nov. 10 incident as a “probable” depredation.
The CCA has called for more radio collaring of wolves so ranchers could be warned that a pack is nearby and so authorities can know if a pack was in the area when they receive depredation reports.
Eric Loft, chief of the DFW’s wildlife branch, said the agency is sympathetic to calls for collaring more wolves.
“We do have that in the plan,” Loft said. However, there’s a short window of opportunity in the spring to capture wolves and they’re difficult to catch, he said.
“They’ve been trying to capture OR-7 again for about two years and they haven’t been able to,” Loft said, referring to a collared gray wolf that wondered briefly into California in 2014 before settling in Southern Oregon.
For the CCA, the suspected depredation and other reports of wolf sightings near cattle come alarmingly close to the announcement in August that a wolf pack had first become established here. The group’s leaders say the reports underscore the threat that an unmanaged wolf population could pose to livestock.
State and federal protections make it illegal to kill or hunt wolves, even in the case of livestock depredation. The wolf plan suggests the state protections could be lifted if at least 50 to 75 of the animals are known to be roaming in California — an idea that was panned by several wolf advocates at the meeting.
Gray wolves became extinct in California nearly a century ago, but the arrival of the lone wolf OR-7 in 2011 marked their return and sparked a proposal to give them a state listing of endangered, which the state Fish and Game commission did over farm groups’ objections in 2014.
Remote cameras in Siskiyou County earlier this year captured two adults and five pups, called the Shasta Pack. And since December, another wolf — called OR-25 — has been coming in and out of Modoc County from Oregon, DWR officials say.