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Wandering wolf OR-93 crossed into San Benito County over the weekend after traversing the Central Valley and crossing Interstate 5 in what wolf biologists are calling a remarkable journey.
SAN BENITO COUNTY, Calif. —
The Central Coast can now call itself home to a Gray Wolf at least for now. Wandering wolf OR-93 crossed into San Benito County over the weekend after traversing the Central Valley and crossing Interstate 5 in what wolf biologists are calling a remarkable journey.
The rolling hills and farmland of San Benito County are hardly wolf country, which raises the questions about what OR-93 is after and how he long he will stay.
Amaroq Weiss with the Center for Biological Diversity has been tracking OR-93’s journey. Weiss said about 50% of young wolves leave their birth packs to start their own families.
“They are looking for a mate of their own and they are looking for a place to set up a territory, it’s like an 18-year-old kid leaving home for the first time, going off to college or where ever they are going and establishing themselves,” said Weiss.
What makes OR-93 different is he is the first known wolf to make it this far southwest since the 1800s. The young male was collared in June 2020 while still with his birth back near Mount Hood in Oregon. He left home in January and in just three months’ time he crossed into California in Modoc County then headed to into the Sierra Nevada before turning west and finally crossing into San Benito County.
The journey west brought him past several packs in Oregon as well as the Lassen Pack and Whaleback Pair in California, but OR-93 was unsuccessful in finding a mate during the trip. Instead, his journey has brought him closer to densely populated parts of California where roadways and infrastructure pose a threat to his survival.
“I have to assume that based on that fact that he crossed Highway 99 and Interstate 5 that what he did was he found some safe places underneath those roadways — some culverts some river crossings some creek crossings,” said Weiss.
Weiss said wolves don’t live long in the wild and dispersed wolves or wandering wolves have an even harder time surviving as lone hunting is harder than doing so with the protection of a pack.
In 2016 the California Department of Fish and Wildlife published its wolf plan and estimated the state could sustain 479 wolves. CDFW also put together a map of suitable wolf territory in the state based on forest cover and prey. The map shows Northern California and the Sierra as being the areas in the state best prepared to support packs but OR-93 has surprised science moving so far west.
“All the wolves that all have come to California since 2011 have all been within that map except for OR-923 has now stepped beyond that map, OR 93 has now stepped beyond the southern Sierra Foothills and come farther west, that’s really remarkable,” said Weiss.
A wolf in farmland may raise the hairs of ranchers in San Benito County worried about livestock degradation. But Weiss said there are plenty of deer and feral pigs for OR-93 to prey on and she reminds people that wolves are protected under the California Endangered Species Act.