Court Ruling Aids Wolves’ Return to California

A judge’s decision to uphold California’s protections for wolves is a step in the right direction, but one lone wolf’s epic journey across state lines shows that federal protections are necessary to ensure the species’ continued survival.

Wolf pup in California's Lassen National Forest in 2017. A remote camera operated by the U.S. Forest Service snapped this photo. A recent court ruling upheld protections for gray wolves as they return to the Golden State.
A remote camera snapped this photo of a wolf pup in California's Lassen National Forest in 2017. Recently a state judge upheld protections for California's growing wolf population. (U.S. Forest Service via AP)

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Update, 3/6/19: The Trump administration has announced a plan to strip Endangered Species Act protections from wolves across almost all of the lower 48. Urge your governor to oppose this attack!

Original post, 2/13/19: The wanderer known as “Journey” is a lone wolf no more.

Recently, a California state judge upheld endangered species protections for gray wolves, ruling on the side of this iconic species as well as conservation groups represented by Earthjustice.

This victory raises the hope that the resurgence started by one wolf known as Journey will live on in California, and it strengthens our resolve to fight for the federal protections necessary to ensure wolves can thrive nationwide.

Journey, whose official radio collar designation is OR-7, is a legend among wolf enthusiasts. Back in 2011, he sparked national awe after trekking more than a thousand miles from northeast Oregon to California, where a wolf hadn’t been spotted in almost 100 years. As the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife tracked his movements, the large tan- and black-haired wolf moved through such wild areas as the Soda Mountain Wilderness, Crater Lake, and the Umpqua National Forest.

Journey became the first wild wolf to set foot in the Golden State since 1924. He traveled back and forth between California and Oregon for a few years, finding a mate in Oregon in 2014. Soon after, they had three furry black pups and were officially designated the Rogue Pack, the first wolf pack established in western Oregon since the early 1900s. The following year, siblings of Journey’s had their own set of wolf pups in California, known as the Shasta Pack. And in 2017, California’s second known pack of wolves, the Lassen Pack, were discovered with three more pups in Lassen National Forest. These wolves, too, can be traced back to Journey, whose son is the breeding male of the Lassen Pack.

But Journey’s lineage extends even further across the West. He’s likely one of several offspring originating from a successful wolf reintroduction program launched in 1995 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That program involved transplanting several wolves from Canada to Yellowstone National Park, and later elsewhere in the Rocky Mountains. When wolves returned to Yellowstone, the ecosystem began to thrive as they helped restore the balance between predator and prey. Earthjustice is pushing for a similar reintroduction program of Mexican gray wolves in the American Southwest.

Together, Journey and his extended wolf pack represent a formidable comeback in a region — and a country — that has historically been no friend of wolves. There were once as many as 2 million of these highly social creatures in North America. By the 1980s, only a few small pockets of survivors remained in the lower 48 states after hunters and fur trappers got their way.

Today, anti-wolf groups and their friends in Congress are determined to repeat the mistakes of the past, returning us to the dark ages when wolves were hunted, poisoned, and killed. Beginning in 2011, legislators stripped gray wolves of federal protections in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Since then, trophy hunters and trappers have killed nearly 3,500 wolves. Now the administration wants to remove protections for wolves across the entire contiguous United States.

The law recently upheld in California makes it illegal to kill wolves within the state’s borders, and also makes state resources available to ensure their recovery. Even if wolves are stripped of the federal protections they currently receive under the Endangered Species Act, they will remain protected within the Golden State.

Journey’s epic travels underscore the need for protections not just in California, but across the United States. That’s why we’re continuing our efforts in court and on Capitol Hill to fight the many attempts by the federal government to remove protections for this endangered species. Without these protections, California — and the country — could be at risk of losing its wolves once again. Join our fight.

Jessica is a former award-winning journalist. She enjoys wild places and dispensing justice, so she considers her job here to be a pretty amazing fit.

The California Regional Office fights for the rights of all to a healthy environment regardless of where in the state they live; we fight to protect the magnificent natural spaces and wildlife found in California; and we fight to transition California to a zero-emissions future where cars, trucks, buildings, and power plants run on clean energy, not fossil fuels.