The Golden State now harbors up to six known wolf families! After nearly a century of statewide extinction from 1924 to 2011, gray wolves (Canis lupus) are making a decidedly strong comeback in California — a testament to both the species’ resilience and the efficacy of efforts to increase and protect statewide habitat connectivity.
Gray wolves are native to California, significant to many Tribes, and historically were widespread throughout the state. Beginning in the mid-19th century, however, European colonizers began systematically eradicating wolves to protect livestock, and wolves were entirely absent from California’s landscape by the 1920s.
It was 87 years until another gray wolf was seen in California, and four more years until a new pack established itself. Now, a century after gray wolves went functionally extinct from California, there are at least 45 wolves roaming our state’s landscapes — a testament to the resilience of the species, and the power of relentless advocacy for endangered wildlife.
Several wolves currently active in California are descendants of OR-7 (aka Journey), who in 2011 became the first gray wolf to definitively step foot in California since 1924. A male born of northeastern Oregon’s Imnaha Pack 2009 litter, OR-7/Journey was GPS-collared by the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife in 2011 before entering California later that year. He traveled thousands of miles across California’s seven northeastern counties before settling with a mate in southwestern Oregon to form the Rogue Pack and sire many of the wolves that have since migrated to California.
After OR-7/Journey dispersed from Oregon into California, EPIC and allies successfully petitioned the State to fully protect wolves under California’s Endangered Species Act in 2014. All gray wolves in the lower 48 United States outside of the Northern Rocky Mountain region are also protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Killing or otherwise harming a wolf is a state and federal crime subject to serious penalties including fines and imprisonment.
As of February 2024, six established packs of gray wolves call California home: Beyem Seyo, Harvey, Yowlumni, Whaleback, Lassen, and an unnamed pair. On January 29, 2024, the California Department of Fish & Wildlife announced the names of two packs identified last year. All together, about 45 adults, yearlings, and pups make up California’s current gray wolf population.
Confirmed in October 2023, the Beyem Seyo Pack has at least two adults (LAS23F and LAS19M) and six pups. The pack’s name, announced in January 2024, reflects where the wolves were detected in Plumas County’s Beyem Seyo Valley, which means “they used to dig here” in the indigenous Maidu language.
Also confirmed in October 2023, the Harvey Pack has at least a breeding pair of two adults (WHA05F and the breeding male) and one pup. The pack’s name, announced in January 2024, reflects where the wolves were detected in Lassen County’s Harvey Valley, which is named after a settler family who lived there in the early 1900s.
In December 2023, the wolf family discovered in August 2023 within Sequoia National Forest in Tulare County was named the Yowlumni pack in partnership with the Tule River Tribe, for the Yowlumni band of the Tule River Yokuts who spoke the “Wolf Tongue.” The pack has at least two adults (OR-7’s daughter YOW01F and the breeding male) and six pups.
Confirmed in early 2021, the Whaleback Pack, named after a mountain ridge that is said to resemble the back of a diving whale near the area the wolves inhabit in Siskiyou County, has at least two adults (OR85 and the breeding female), one yearling/adult, and eight pups.
Confirmed in 2017, the Lassen Pack, named after the area they inhabit in Lassen and Plumas Counties, has at least two adults, five yearlings (including LAS32F), and three pups.
Yowlumni Pack wolves in Tulare County, Fall 2023.
Video from CDFW.
An unnamed pair of wolves was documented in Sierra and Nevada Counties in March, August, and October 2023; survey efforts are ongoing to gather more information.
Three wolves were detected in May 2021 near the Plumas County town of Beckwourth, and were named the Beckwourth Pack after the 19th-century explorer, fur trader, and speculator James Beckwourth. In 2022 only one wolf was documented in the area, and survey efforts detected no wolves in 2023; the pack’s current status is unknown.
The Shasta Pack, confirmed in early 2015, was California’s first gray wolf pack since the species’ return to the state. The breeding adults, both born of the Imnaha Pack in Oregon (the same as OR-7), produced a litter of five pups in the summer of 2015, but the pack has not been detected since November 2015.
Shasta Pack pups in Siskiyou County, August, 2015.
Video from CDFW.
Packs are defined as two or more wolves traveling together and using a definable area. They are recognized when CDFW either a) detects multiple wolves and evidence of reproduction, or b) detects two or more wolves four or more times within a geographically congruent area within a six-month period. When two or more wolves are detected at one or more locations outside of a known pack area but one of the pack criteria is not met, those areas are called Area of Wolf Activity. Outside of the currently known six packs, there are two Areas of Wolf Activity in Modoc and Tehema Counties.
While these updates include all presently known wolf activity in California, CDFW admits “it is likely that a small number of uncollared dispersers exist in the state at any moment in time,” and “continues to survey for the presence of uncollared and collared animals based on wolf sighting reports and other signs of wolf activity (e.g., suspected depredations, DNA, tracks, etc.). Please report wolves or signs of wolves in California to CDFW at www.wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Mammals/Gray-Wolf/Sighting-Report.