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For the First Time in a Century, California Has 2 Breeding Wolf Packs

In 2011, California saw its first wolf in 87 years. Now, the state has confirmed it has two reproducing packs.

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It’s a good year to be a West Coast wolf: For the first time in more than 100 years, two separate wolf packs produced litters in California in 2021, state wildlife authorities say.

In a quarterly report released last week, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said that both the Lassen and Whaleback Packs produced pups in 2021. The Lassen Pack, which roams a 500-square-mile territory in Lassen and Plumas Counties in the northeastern part of the state, has had at least one litter every year since 2017. In 2021, it produced six pups. The newer Whaleback Pack resides in Siskiyou County, along California’s northern border, and is composed of two wolves that genetic analysis indicates entered the state from Oregon. The pair also produced six pups this year.

The news marks a sharp turnaround for gray wolves’ fortunes in California, where ranchers and the United States government extirpated the species in 1924 through a focused program of hunting and trapping. In 2011, OR-7, a wolf from the Wallowa Range in northeastern Oregon, became the first confirmed member of his species to enter California in 87 years when his GPS collar recorded him crossing the state line.

In a press release, the Center for Biological Diversity called the confirmation of the breeding packs “a red-letter moment in wolf recovery for the Golden State.”

“These little ones are here because of legal protections that are crucial to their survival and made it possible for wolves to return,” said Amaroq Weiss, the non-profit’s senior West Coast wolf advocate.

Across the United States, wildlife authorities and state legislatures are continuing to wrestle with the question of how to manage wolves. In January, the outgoing Trump administration removed gray wolves from the endangered species list, stripping them of federal protections throughout most of the US., though state-level protections like California’s remain. In Colorado, the state’s parks and wildlife department is working to create a reintroduction plan after voters narrowly approved a ballot measure in favor of bringing back the predator last year. And in Wisconsin, the state’s department of natural resources is considering setting a 130-animal limit to this year’s wolf season after hunters blew past the last season’s quota, killing 216 of the state’s estimated 1,000 wolves.