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Environment

Formal petition submitted to re-list gray wolf as endangered; could benefit Central Coast ecosystems

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Courtesy: CDFW
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Female gray wolf after being fitted with a satellite tracking collar in Lassen County, June 2020.

More than 70 groups formally filed a request with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to re-list the gray wolf as an endangered species, citing inadequate protections and a small population.

Jeff Kuyper is the executive director for the Los Padres ForestWatch, one of the 70 groups filing the protection petition. He said re-listing the gray wolf as federally endangered is really the only way to ensure the species’ safety.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife lists the wolves as endangered in California but doesn’t have a re-establishment program for the species. According to the CDFW, wolf packs in the state are a result of migration from surrounding areas.

“When we see these threats to wolves in neighboring states and in nearby states, it’s going to significantly impact the ability of wolves to return to California,” Kuyper said.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the gray wolf was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1974. The ForestWatch says there were about 1,000 left in the contiguous United States at that time and it grew to about 6,000 as of 2020. The Trump administration removed federal protection for the animals that same year.

According to the National Park Service, Yellowstone National Park has undergone a decades-long process to reestablish the wolves. But since the federal designation change, Kuyper says states surrounding the park have reduced hunting and trapping regulations, which could potentially threaten the species.

The CDFW knows of three wolf packs that are currently active in California. In April of this year, a wolf from Oregon known as OR-93 was identified in San Luis Obispo County. He was the first wolf to appear on the Central Coast in over a century.

Kuyper said our local ecosystems have missed the environmental benefit of wolves because they help keep things balanced. He said federal protection could mean more wolves make their way to the Central Coast and the Los Padres National Forest, where they used to manage habitat.

“Wolves are a core indicator species showing the health of an ecosystem,” Kuyper said. “They play important roles in terms of culling out sick and injured elk and deer and really strengthening the populations of other species that are important to us as Californians.”

Conflict between humans and wolves can arise if the animals get too close to property or go after livestock, but Kuyper said we can avoid killing them by implementing mitigation tactics like building stronger enclosures or installing electric fencing.

The Los Padres ForestWatch runs a program called Room to Roam, designed specifically to educate the public and reduce wildlife conflict.

WHAR Wolf Sanctuary in Paso Robles cares for a handful of wolf-dog hybrids. The non-profit also educates people about canines and how to interact harmoniously with them.

Melanie Krutsinger is the CEO of WHAR and said she is fully supportive of re-listing the gray wolf as endangered. She said there are a lot of misconceptions about the species but education can help shift how people view wolves.

“We naturally are going to fear what we don’t necessarily know,” Krutsinger said. “Knowing a little bit more about how the wolf affects populations in the wild, in nature, is to our best benefit and for us to better understand it.”

Studies done by the National Park Service suggest the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone has greatly increased the biodiversity of the area. Krutsinger says we could see similar changes in California and along the Central Coast with the protection of wolves.

Kuyper said the process of getting the gray wolf re-listed as federally endangered could take a couple of years.

As of August 3, The California Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed that two of the three California wolf packs have produced pups this year.