Listing for wolf disrupts efforts at management


Issue Date: June 11, 2014
By Ching Lee
California has extended endangered species protection for the gray wolf even though there are no known populations in the state.

After the California Fish and Game Commission voted last week to list the gray wolf under the state Endangered Species Act, groups representing livestock ranchers say it is unclear how the decision will impact their future participation in development of a pending state wolf management plan.

The decision for the listing provides immediate and additional protection for the gray wolf under state law, though the regulatory language will take several months to complete and approve, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Although there are currently no known wolf populations in the state, the commission voted 3-1 to extend endangered species protections to wolves, acknowledging that their population boom in other Western states makes it inevitable that they will continue to venture into California and become established here again.

"To me, it is not a question of if, only of when. Wolves will arrive," Commissioner Richard Rogers said.

Last week's vote came after more than two hours of testimony in a packed meeting room in Fortuna. The commission previously delayed making a decision on the matter in April, after a meeting in Ventura, to give people in Northern California opportunity to comment.

Interest in protecting gray wolves was sparked by a lone male wolf known as OR7 that has crossed the Oregon/California state line several times since December 2011. Oregon wildlife officials confirmed last week that OR7 and a female mate have pups.

The gray wolf is already protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed removing those protections in the lower 48 states because wolf populations have recovered. That decision is not expected until sometime next year.

The commission's decision goes against the recommendation of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, whose scientists said that the gray wolf does not warrant listing under the state ESA at this time because it is not in serious danger or threatened, and because there is no established wolf population in California.

"I'm extremely disappointed that the commission ignored the department's recommendation and chose to list the species," said Noelle Cremers, director of natural resources and commodities for the California Farm Bureau Federation.

The department recommended instead to continue developing a wolf management plan that has been in the works for more than two years and involves a wide range of stakeholders. Now, with the gray wolf's listing under the state ESA, there is question as to whether stakeholders will continue to participate in the management planning process, said Cremers, a member of the stakeholders working group.

"There's no management anymore," she said. "A lot of the discussion becomes a bit moot unless we're able to statutorily change (the state ESA) to allow for take of predators."

Under the state ESA, "take" means to hunt, pursue, catch, capture or kill, or attempt to engage in any such conduct.

Part of the work of the stakeholders group has been to develop management tools that ranchers could use to protect their livestock against wolf predation, said Lesa Eidman, executive director of the California Woolgrowers Association, also a member of the group. But with the protection provided to the gray wolf under the state ESA, many of those tools will not be available to ranchers, she added.

Kirk Wilbur, director of government relations for the California Cattlemen's Association, described the commission's decision to list the gray wolf as "a huge blow" to the plan that stakeholders have been developing.

"A tremendous number of the options that were being considered by all of the stakeholders are off the table now," he said. "We certainly are looking at a much less flexible plan that will be much less satisfying to a number of the stakeholders."

As an example, one option that had been discussed, he said, was the ability for ranchers to drive an ATV toward a wolf in proximity of livestock to try to scare it off the property, a method that stakeholders agreed would be acceptable. But under the state ESA, such an act might be considered a pursuit, which could be illegal, Wilbur said.

"And not all of the nonlethal methods work in all situations," Cremers said.

One such method often cited by wolf proponents is using flags along fence lines to deter wolves, but Cremers said many of these noninjurious methods are effective for only a very limited time and have low success rates. An operation's location, size, terrain and management practices may also render some of these methods ineffective.

Cremers, Eidman and Wilbur said they are talking to their organizations' members to get direction on how to proceed and whether to remain on the stakeholder working group. While the wolf management plan will now be much different from what they had been working on, Cremers said there are new management issues that the department will need to address, such as whether the state will share costs of nonlethal activities, the prospect of a wolf deterrent plan and what to do about livestock losses from wolf attacks.

Karen Kovacs, wildlife program manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the department will proceed with scheduled meetings of the stakeholder working groups and that she is "hopeful that the same level of participation will ensue." Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Kovacs said, the timeline for completion of the wolf management plan is still set for Dec. 1.

(Ching Lee is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at clee@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.