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Gray Wolf’s Visit To Monterey County This Week Prompts Concerns For Ranchers

Austin Smith, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.
Gray Wolf OR-93 is on a historic journey through California. Travelling further south than any other wolf since the animals returned to the state in 2011. This week he moved through Monterey County.

A gray wolf made a brief appearance in Monterey County this week on a historic journey south from Oregon. His presence is also noteworthy for the agricultural community. Experts say spreading awareness about this protected wolf is essential in minimizing wolf-livestock conflicts.

Gray wolf OR-93 is an approximately two year old male from northern Oregon. He was fitted with a tracking collar in June of 2020 and that data revealed an epic journey south of almost 1,000 miles. 

Jordan Traverso is spokesperson for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. 

“This Wolf, OR-93, which represents the ninety third wolf that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has collared, has come the farthest south than any other wolf we've seen since wolves have returned to the state,” she said. 

Wolves had not been seen in California for close to a hundred years when they started to return in 2011. 

Traverso says this wolf has travelled an enormous distance since he arrived in the state at the beginning of this year. He kept mostly to the counties on the state’s eastern border along the Sierra Nevada. But when he reached central California he turned west eventually making it into Monterey County. He didn’t stay long though and by Tuesday had been detected in San Luis Obispo County.  

Besides the significant and historic distance, OR-93’s journey has been a dangerous one with him crossing busy freeways. 

“It's crossed 99, 5 and at this point, U.S. 101, which is really, really amazing. Wildlife gets hit by cars all the time and these are major, major freeways,” said Traverso.

This isn’t the only concern for the gray wolf, says Traverso. There’s also rodenticides, chemicals that kill rodents, that he could come across when he reaches more populated areas. And sometimes humans mistake the protected wolves for coyotes, which are legal to hunt in California.   

And this is where ranchers come in. 

“One wolf does not pose a significant threat, but it still is another apex predator that does feed off of cattle or deer or other small animals,” said Traverso.

Her advice to ranchers and anyone concerned about the presence of a gray wolf is similar to that of Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner Henry Gonzales -- leave him be. 

“They should not harass or try anything to distract the wolf from what it's doing just to leave it alone. If you want to make a notation and share that with others that would be a good thing,” Gonzales said. 

Gonzalez says the wolf’s presence is noteworthy as Monterey County’s agricultural industry includes more than field crops with about a million acres of rangeland where livestock roams. He doesn’t want his county making any bad headlines.  

“We don't want anyone to mistake a gray wolf, this particular gray wolf for a coyote and then shoot it,”  he said. 

Gonzales isn’t too concerned about the impact, if any, one wolf could have on local livestock. Adding that many ranchers already have defences in place to protect their animals from coyotes which should be sufficient for wolves too. 

Where this wolf heads next and if he’ll be back is unknown. What we do know is he’s out searching for a new food source or a new territory or a mate. 

For Jordan Traverso, the California Fish and Wildlife spokesperson, this epic journey is a positive story for the state which used to be historic wolf habitat. A story that could ensure there are wild lands for animals that belong here to stay here. Animals like gray wolf OR-93. 

If you think you’ve seen Gray Wolf OR-93 you can report a sighting here

Tips for recognizing the difference between a gray wolf and coyote

Find out more about gray wolves in California here.

From 2019 to 2021 Michelle Loxton worked at KAZU as an All Things Considered host and reporter. During that time she reported on a variety of topics from the coronavirus pandemic, the opioid epidemic and local elections. Loxton was part of the news team that won a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award for the continued coverage of the four major wildfires that engulfed California’s Central Coast in 2020.