Wildlife group will ask for extended gray wolf protection
SAN FRANCISCO – A national wildlife organization is trying to keep federal protections for gray wolves pending their return to their historic habitat in Northern California and Southwestern Oregon.
The group Defenders of Wildlife is hoping to get the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to keep the wolves, last seen in California in 1924, on the endangered species list. The service is considering reclassifying them, taking them off the list and ending federal protections for the animals.
The group was to file a petition Monday outlining reasons for keeping the protections in place for any wolves that would wander from Idaho into the Northern California/Southwestern Oregon area, which could support up to 500 wolves. The group has done the same for wolves that might arrive in the southern Rocky Mountains, which could support up to 2,000.
Reintroduction of wolves would speed up the establishment of a population in California, rather than waiting for them to meander from Idaho through Oregon into California. But the group is pushing for protections for wolves that would possibly arrive rather than for reintroduction of a set population in order to provide time to address concerns, said Bob Ferris, vice president of species conservation for Defenders of Wildlife.
”We want to go about this sort of thing in a very measured way,” he said. ”This is serious business and it has profound ramifications. We want to look at it in a well-reasoned manner and give people an opportunity to have a say.”
When time is taken to get people used to the idea of a new population of wolves, the animals have a better chance of survival, said Kim Delfino of Defenders of Wildlife.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not seen the petition yet and cannot comment, said spokeswoman Patricia Foulk.
Gray wolves became endangered after years of being poisoned, shot and trapped by ranchers who wanted to stop them from killing livestock.
Jack King, manager of the national affairs division of the California Farm Bureau Federation, said he is against enhancing protections for the wolves, but will support the Fish and Wildlife Service’s eventual decision.
”We feel that in a state such as California where you have people and livestock any action to encourage the further spread of the wolf would certainly meet with conflict,” King said.
Wolves have been reintroduced in the Great Lakes area in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan; in the Northern Rockies in Yellowstone National Park and Idaho; and in the Southwest in Arizona and New Mexico. They now number almost 3,500 in those areas.
It’s uncertain when wolves would make their way into Northern California, where their habitat was mostly in the coastal mountain ranges from south of San Luis Obispo north into southwestern Oregon.
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