Court Ruling Aids Wolves’ Return to California


Written by By Jessica A. Knoblauch

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 the 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.

The above video shows remote camera photos clipped together of OR7 from May 2014.

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 predators and prey. Earthjustice is pushing for a similar reintroduction program of Mexican gray wolves in the American Southwest.

Members of the Shasta Pack captured on film by a California Department of Fish and Wildlife trail cam. Image credit California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

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 decimated the population.

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 current administration wants to remove protections for wolves across the entire contiguous United States.

A remote camera snapped this photo of a wolf pup in California’s Lassen National Forest in 2017. Image credit U.S. Forest Service via AP.

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 and take action to help defend the endangered species act. Wildlife could soon be under fire due to a series of regulatory rollbacks to the Endangered Species Act. Urge your governor to stand up for the Endangered Species Act and for wolf recovery by opposing the national wolf-delisting plan.

Featured image: the Snake River pack captured by a remote camera photo taken 2/1/2017 in Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, Oregon. Image credit Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, CC BY-SA 3.0.

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Today’s environmental challenges are greater than ever. But we live in a country of strong environmental laws—and EarthJustice holds those who break our nation’s laws accountable for their actions. EarthJustice has been the legal backbone for thousands of organizations, large and small. As the nation’s original and largest nonprofit environmental law organization, we leverage our expertise and commitment to fight for justice and advance the promise of a healthy world for all. Click to see author's profile.

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