Trail cameras have recorded images of two adult wolfs and five pups in Northern California, providing evidence of the first group of wolves to enter the state since the California population was killed off in the 1920s.
The photos were announced by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on Thursday. The images were recorded after cameras in southeastern Siskiyou County captured what was believed — but not confirmed — to be a gray wolf in May and July.
The pups’ proximity to the animal photographed in May and June had led state wildlife officials to believe the wolf is associated with the young canids, who are estimated to be a few months old.
The group of seven wolves has been dubbed the “Shasta Pack.” Its exact location was not disclosed.
“This news is exciting for California,” said Charlton H. Bonham, the wildlife department’s director. “We knew wolves would eventually return home to the state and it appears now is the time.”
A gray wolf that ventured into Northern California from Oregon in 2011 — named OR7 — was the first known wolf to appear in the state since 1924. OR7 has since returned to southern Oregon and is the breeding male in the “Rogue Pack” there.
The Shasta Pack marks the first known group, including pups, in California in more than nine decades.
The parents of the cubs are presumed to be from Oregon, but wildlife officials do not believe they are descended from OR7, the San Jose Mercury News reported. A DNA analysis is being done to try to learn more about the pack, and the department plans to put a tracking collar on at least one of the adults, according to the newspaper.
The California Fish and Game Commission voted last year to list the species as endangered under state law. Gray wolves have been endangered under a federal listing since 1978.
Washington, D.C.-based environmental advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife was quick to issue a statement about the photos, saying polls and the commission vote indicate “Californians are ready to welcome (wolves) home.”
“We have been given a second chance to restore this iconic species to a landscape they had been missing from for nearly one hundred years,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of the nonprofit. “We must seize this opportunity to forge new partnerships to help wolves live in harmony with people and livestock in their California home.”
It is illegal to “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect” wolves in California, the state wildlife department said.