State wildlife agency officials announced yesterday that wolf OR-54 was found dead this week in Shasta County. The radio-collared wolf from Oregon made California her home nearly two years ago.
No cause of death has been announced, but state officials said an investigation is underway and that the illegal killing of a wolf is subject to serious penalties, including fines and jail time. In January, officials announced that a wolf found dead in Northern California in late 2018 had been illegally killed.
“This is a tragic development for the early stages of wolf recovery in California,” said Amaroq Weiss, a West Coast wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity in a statement. “Like her dad, the famous wolf OR-7 who came to California years ago, OR-54 was a beacon of hope who showed that wolves can return and flourish here. Her death is devastating, no matter the cause.”
OR-54, a nearly 4-year-old female wolf from Oregon, moved into California in the spring of 2018. She spent almost the entire past two years ranging across multiple northern California counties, including portions of: Butte, Lassen, Modoc, Nevada, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou and Tehama counties, plus a few short trips back to Oregon. Overall, she is known to have traveled more than 8,712 miles since entering California two years ago.
“We hope OR-54 died a natural death and wasn’t killed illegally,” Weiss said. “The return of wolves is a major environmental milestone in our state, and the vast majority of Californians want to see wolves recovered here.”
Fewer than a dozen known wolves now live in California, including a few lone individuals and the Lassen pack. The Lassen pack was confirmed in 2017 and ranges through Lassen and Plumas counties.
The seven-member, all-black Shasta pack, the state’s first in nearly 100 years, disappeared from Siskiyou County within months after its discovery in 2015, following the pack’s implications in two livestock casualties and amid fears of poaching.
California’s wolves were wiped out in the early 1900s by a nationwide, government-sponsored eradication program on behalf of the livestock industry. Wolves began to return to Oregon and Washington in the 2000s. In 2011, a wolf from Oregon made his way into California, becoming the first confirmed wild wolf there in nearly 90 years. Since then, several other wolves have ventured into California from Oregon. OR-54, the wolf found dead, was one of OR-7’s offspring, born in southwest Oregon in 2016.
Gray wolves are protected as an endangered species under state and federal law. The maximum penalty for violating the federal Endangered Species Act is one year in jail and a $100,000 fine per individual.
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