California Gray Wolf Update: Established Packs Growing, Potential New Packs Identified
Updated: Apr 26
After nearly a century of statewide extinction, gray wolves (Canis lupus) are slowly but surely making a comeback in California.
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 year shy of a century after gray wolves went functionally extinct from California, there are at least 30 wolves roaming our state’s landscapes — a testament to the resilience of the species, and the power of relentless advocacy for endangered wildlife.
In December 2011, OR-7 (“Journey”) became the first confirmed gray wolf in California since 1924. A male born of northeastern Oregon’s Imnaha Pack 2009 litter, OR-7 was GPS-collared in Oregon in 2011 before entering California later in the year. He traveled thousands of miles across the state’s seven northeastern counties before settling with a mate to form the Rogue Pack in southwestern Oregon and sire many of the wolves that have since migrated to California.
After OR-7 dispersed from Oregon into California, EPIC and allies successfully petitioned the State to fully protect wolves under California’s Endangered Species Act. 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.
The Shasta Pack, confirmed in early 2015, was California’s first gray wolf pack since the species’ return. 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 was not detected after November 2015.
As of 2021, three established packs of gray wolves call California home: the Lassen Pack confirmed in 2017, the Whaleback Pack confirmed in early 2021, and the Beckwourth Pack confirmed in spring of 2021.
A male wolf, CA08M, was born of OR-7’s first litter in Oregon before dispersing to California like his father, and becoming the first breeding male of the Lassen Pack, which was confirmed in 2017 and has a 349 square-mile home range in western Lassen and northern Plumas counties. The pack’s original breeding female, LAS01F, was last detected in 2020, and the current matriarch is her five-year-old daughter, LAS09F. Her mate, LAS16M, joined the pack in 2019 and has fathered the pack’s litters since 2020; DNA analysis is currently underway to determine his origins. The Lassen Pack has produced litters for six consecutive years from 2017 to 2022, totalling at least 32 wolves. As of March 2023, the family consists of at least a dozen wolves after surviving the 2021 Dixie Fire that burned a large part of their territory in the Northern Sierras.
Another one of OR-7’s offspring, the female wolf WHA01F, also dispersed to California like her father and became the first matriarch of the Whaleback Pack, which was confirmed in 2021 and has a 341 square-mile home range in eastern Siskiyou County. The breeding male, OR85, was born in Oregon’s Mount Emily Pack in 2019 before dispersing to California in November 2020. WHA01F and OR85 had litters of seven pups in 2021 and eight pups in 2022, bringing the pack to a total of 17 wolves. In March 2023, the California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) captured and collared two wolves from the Whaleback Pack — a yearling male from the 2021 litter and the four-year-old OR85. According to CDFW, “the two wolves were captured March 17, fitted with satellite collars, measured and sampled for DNA and disease surveillance, and safely released back to the wild.”
The Beckwourth Pack was discovered in May 2021 when three wolves were photographed by trail camera in southern Plumas County, confirming the presence of wolves suspected after two sets of tracks were found in the same area earlier in the year. DNA analysis of scat indicated that one of the wolves, LAS12F, is a female from the Lassen Pack 2019 litter. Footage from CDFW shows two of the wolves in November 2021. In 2022, two wolves were detected 22 miles from the 2021 trail cam site. DNA analysis of scat indicated that one of the wolves, LAS19M, is a male from the Lassen Pack 2020 litter. It is not yet known whether or not the second area with wolves detected is related to the Beckwourth Pack.
Most recently in April 2023, after CDFW published their most recent report on California wolves, the agency confirmed that three wolves were photographed by trail camera on a private ranch in Tehama County in late March. This trio marks the fifth potential gray wolf pack to establish in California after nearly a century of the species’ absence from its native home range throughout the state.
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