A young, collared wolf in Lassen County, Calif. Wolves have returned to the area, where the last original wild wolf was killed by a hunter in 1924.Credit…Morgan Heim
By Hillary Richard March 11, 2022
.Kent Laudon, a wolf biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, woke up one morning last year to a flurry of text messages from a rancher in the state’s northernmost county. He was asking about a post with wildly specific details spreading across Facebook that urged people to find a red truck that was transporting breeding wolves along Route 97 into Siskiyou County, Calif. Mr. Laudon was not surprised. This wasn’t the first post of its kind, and it wouldn’t be the last.“Wolves make people crazy,” he said of these persistent rumors. “And for the record: No, we’re not importing wolves. That never happened.”Wolves don’t need to be dropped off in California because they are returning on their own. The last of the state’s original wild wolves was killed by a hunter in Lassen County in Northern California in 1924. Since 2011, a series of roving canids have come and gone. Now it seems that in the state’s far-north counties, families of wolves are there to stay, with a relatively stable population of about 20 wolves. That number may fluctuate once spring begins and new pups emerge from their dens, but California can probably expect to have wolves calling the state home for years to come.Their return is motivating conservationists and scientists like Mr. Laudon to battle misinformation and the deep politicization of the species. Simultaneously, biologists are learning more about their habits in an effort to help humans and wolves coexist.
Mr. Laudon, with Sammie’s assistance, listening for collared wolves in Lassen County.Credit…Morgan HeimIn fact, wolf managers believe the animals are far from the unrivaled livestock killers people imagine them to be. They can be scared off by aggressive mother cows. Wolves are also easily deterred by electric fences, bright lights and flashes. When they do stalk cattle, they typically pick off young, weak and sick animals. Otherwise, they scavenge dead carcasses.The problem is scale. For Mr. de Braga and many others who are dealing with large herds across hundreds of thousands of acres, deterring wolves seems futile.“It’s pretty hard to like wolves when they cost us so much money. They don’t kill cattle every day, but there’s no compensation program when they do,” he said.According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report, 98 percent of adult cattle deaths — and 89 percent of calves — are the result of non-predator issues like respiratory problems, old age, birthing complications, infections and poisonous weeds.And for that small percent of kills, other predators are often to blame, like coyotes — responsible for the majority of cattle deaths — dogs, bears, cougars, bobcats and vultures. Wolves come in behind all of those animals. Even those U.S.D.A. numbers have been questioned by the Humane Society of the United States, which released a report in 2019 stating that the numbers were greatly inflated compared with state department of fish and wildlife reports.