A young wolf from Oregon who was a player in the slow reintroduction of wolves into California has been killed by a vehicle, a fate common to many endangered animals seeking to survive in the Golden State.
The young wolf, OR93 is certainly not the only victim of roadside carnage that kills more than 500 black bears, 300 cougars and members of 400 species a year. The slaughter costs California more than $1Billion every 5 years.
The wolf, identified as OR93 because he was the 93rd wolf in an Oregon study, was hit by a vehicle in Kern County. A necropsy (animal autopsy) showed damage to his left hind leg, a dislocated knee and soft tissue damage to the abdomen. He was found on a dirt road frontage parallel to I-5 near the town of Lebec. He was identified by the collar he was wearing. Lebec is an unincorporated mountain community of 1,500 people located about 40 miles south of Bakersfield and 75 miles north of Los Angeles.
OR93 was a gray wolf (canis lupus) born in 2019 into the White River pack in northern Oregon. His pack began a few years before his birth and now numbers 11. He was collared sometime after birth in an Oregon wolf study and left his family and entered California’s Modoc County in January, 2021. He returned to Oregon briefly but came back to California to stay in February. His collar went dead in April and by that time he had wandered more than 900 miles, perhaps 1000, into the state. His travels took him near Yosemite and into northern Ventura County. In both areas he was the first wolf that far south since one was captured in San Bernardino in 1922.
His appearance that far south and his evident success excited biologists who are watching the gradual reintroduction of wolves into the western United States. Wolves were once common throughout the United States but were declared varmints and gradually exterminated. By the 1950’s they had been exterminated except for remnants in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan. Red wolves existed in the Southeast, but were declared extinct in the wild by 1970. Most of those remaining were captured for captive breeding and reintroduction programs. Red wolves are a distinct species from gray wolves, of whom there may be four or five subspecies in North America.
Scientists such as L. David Mech began to study wolves closely during the `1950’s. Mech worked in Michigan, particularly at Isle Royale National Park. The work of such scientists, began to change public opinion about the animal. Reintroduction efforts began at Yellowstone National Park in the 1990’s. Descendants of those wolves and wolves from Canada began to cross back into other states. Today, Washington state has numerous active packs and an estimated 108 wolves. Oregon is home to several packs. and an estimated 158 individuals. Idaho is home to an estimated 1,000 wolves.
California today has one active pack, the Lassen Pack, which appears to be established, A second pack, the Shasta Pack, has disappeared. There is a Whaleback Pair, which will become a pack if they breed successfully and the pups survive. Individual wolves are also believed to be in the state.