By Susan Murphy
Efforts in San Diego County to restore Mexican gray wolves in the southwest are paying off. A recent survey shows a steady increase of the animal in the wild.
The Mexican gray wolf population at a recovery range in Arizona and New Mexico, where breeded animals are released, has increased to 83 — up from 75 last year, and just four in 1998. The California Wolf Center in Julian is one of several facilities across the country working to breed the endangered animal, which is a sub-species of the gray wolf.
The group is also working to pave the way for the return of gray wolves to California by proposing state and federal conservation plans and educating the public.
"Mainly because they’ll sometimes get into conflict with livestock, and people tend to have very strong feelings one way or another about wolves; they either kind of love them or they don’t," said Lauren Richie, director of California Wolf Recovery at the Wolf Center.
Earlier this month, following a yearlong review, the director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Chuck Bonham, recommended to not list the gray wolf on the endangered species list. Instead, he advised listing the wolf as a species of special concern and that a prohibition be placed on killing of gray wolves in California.
The commission is expected to consider his recommendation and could act on it in April.
Richie said she’s puzzled by the recommendation because currently, just one gray wolf called OR7 is meandering along the northern California border, and she believes the endangered species list is warranted.
"It’s kind of hard to get more endangered than that," said Richie. "But we do understand there’s a lot of scientific uncertainly. Usually when a department is looking at listing a species at the state level they’ve got to use a lot of scientific data to make that decision, and there isn’t really much because we don’t have a wolf population."
"If we could get another way to afford protections, that would be, I guess, a second best choice," she added.
More gray wolves are expected to move into California from the north as the population grows.
"It’s hard to predict how many could come," said Richie. "That really depends on the habitat and the prey base that’s available for wolves."
"We’re preparing for wolves to come back regardless of what the protections are because we think it’s inevitable and we see being proactive as a positive thing regardless of what the legal status is," Richie said. Audiofile.