SAN DIEGO (CN) – A San Diego Superior Court judge on Monday denied a California ranching and farming group’s request to roll back the state’s protection status for gray wolves.
The California Farm Bureau Federation challenged the state Fish and Game Commission who found the gray wolf a native species of California in 2016. The Farm Bureau claimed the canine was not native to the state and was ineligible for listing.
A lone wolf who migrated from a wolf pack in Oregon kicked off the feud, who was later joined by a mate and was the focus of the lawsuit filed against the state in February 2017.
With their livestock threatened, the group claimed that giving the gray wolf substantial protections not easily contravened, the commission overturned a years-long, collaboratively developed wolf management plan that protects livestock from wolf predation, and threatened the safety and livelihoods of farmers and ranchers.
Gray wolves, also called timber wolves, are the largest canines. Ranging in color from mottled gray and brown to black or all white, they can measure 5 feet long and 60 to 100 lbs. for females and 6.5 feet long and 70 to 145 lbs. for males. They typically eat large hoofed animals such as deer and elk, but also feed on small animals and carrion.
On Monday, San Diego Superior Judge Eddie Sturgeon denied the request, finding that the state Fish and Game Commission based their findings on accurate information.
As part of their lawsuit, the ranching and farming group claimed the wolf, named OR-7, was part of a subspecies that never existed in California. They claim OR-7’s presence in 2011 marked the first time a wild wolf made its way to the Golden State.
The commission’s findings showed that OR-7’s range included California and Oregon and traveled back and forth since 2011.
On Nov. 4, 2015 OR-7 was spotted traveling with a female wolf and at least two gray wolf pups on the California-Oregon border. The commission said it was highly likely that the wolf pack was traveling together in California. Meanwhile, another pair of gray wolves was seen traveling in Lassen County in Northern California.
The California Fish and Game Commission listed the gray wolf as endangered, despite there still being some debate over the subspecies of the gray wolf. But according to records, data showed that the gray wolf was a keystone species that once inhabited most of the United States, including much of California.
“Petitioners argue OR-7, was a subspecies of a gray wolf not native to California which allegedly were either Great Plains or Mexican gray wolves, and not great northwestern wolf,” Sturgeon wrote. “Therefore, petitions contend because a northwestern wolf is not native to California, no protection should be given. However, the commission is not limited to protecting only a subspecies, but may protect a native species.”
Gray wolves are not only threatened by overexploitation, predation, disease and other human activities, but they’re also in danger from being mistaken as a coyote by a hunter and getting hit by vehicles while trying to cross a highway.
In a statement, Tom Wheeler, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center said, “Wolves are coming back to California, and today’s decision gives them a red carpet to return home.”
Jim Houston, manager of legal and governmental affairs with the California Farm Bureau Federation, said his group would like to work with the state.
“The state listing gives ranchers limited options to protect their animals. We are committed to working with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to figure out ways to reduce the burdens of raising livestock in areas with wolves, but we do not expect it to be easy,” Houston said in a statement.
At least two wolf packs have arrived in California since OR-7 first arrived in California and then turned around to settle back down in Oregon. The Shasta pack was discovered in 2015 and disappeared the following year, and the Lassen Pack had its second group of pups just last year.