New wolf pack confirmed in Tulare County

New wolf pack confirmed in Tulare County

A new pack of gray wolves has been confirmed in the Sequoia National Forest region of Tulare County, a remarkable 200 miles by air from the nearest other families.

The pack — which consists of at least five animals not ever seen before in California — means that between five to seven packs now live in the state, highlighting the dispersal ability of this endangered species.

The precise tally is uncertain, because animals are moving into the far northeast corner of the state, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Packs have been reported in Tehama County, western Lassen County, Lassen and Plumas counties, eastern Siskiyou County and eastern Plumas County.

It is not known how the wolves traveled all the way to the Central Valley county of Tulare, located in Southern California between Fresno and Bakersfield. But the county is vast, stretching east to the spine of the Sierra Nevada, which offers a major wildlife corridor.

A sighting was first reported in July in Sequoia National Forest, according to CDFW. Famed for its giant trees, the forest covers over 1.1 million acres of wilderness. Mount Whitney, at 14,494 feet the highest peak in the United States south of Alaska, rises at its border.

State biologists investigated the reported location, found wolf tracks and other signs of wolf presence, and collected 12 scat and hair samples from the immediate area for genetic testing. All 12 samples were confirmed to be gray wolf.

The pack features one adult female, who is a direct descendant of California’s first documented wolf in the state in recent history, dubbed OR7. It also includes four offspring: two females and two males. A genetic profile of the offspring indicate that they are descendants of the Lassen Pack.

Wolves roamed broadly across North America for thousands of years. Their numbers collapsed after they were hunted widely over concerns by ranchers and settlers in the 1800s that they can eat calves and sheep. Many Western states, including California, paid bounties to people who killed wolves in the 1800s. Gray wolves were extirpated in the state by the 1920s.

But in recent years, the animals have been making a comeback.

In late 2011, OR7 crossed the state line from Oregon to become the first wolf in nearly a century to make California part of his range before returning to his home state to form the Rogue Pack. In 2021, a lone young male called OR93 traveled from western Oregon to Kern County, where he was killed by a car on the edge of a Tejon Pass mountain town, east of Santa Barbara. He had roamed deeper into the Golden State than any wolf in a century.

Wolves almost never attack people. There are only two documented cases, one in Canada and one in Alaska, of a wolf killing a person. They eat deer, rabbits and other animals, including occasionally calves and sheep.

Wolves are protected under California’s Endangered Species Act and are federally protected in California under the federal Endangered Species Act. It is illegal to intentionally kill or harm wolves in the state.

For more information and to report potential sightings, visit CDFW’s Gray Wolf Program webpage at wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Mammals/Gray-Wolf.