“It’s a good day for wolves in California and beyond,” Delapp said.
Close to 200 people filled the conference room of Fortuna's Riverlodge conference room this morning to attend a California Fish and Wildlife Commission public hearing on the topic of large predators. Included in the itinerary was public comment on whether or not to list the Gray Wolf under the California Endangered Species Act. The cro
wd, which quickly spilled out of the conference room, sported a proportionate mix of furry "wolf-ear" beanies and cowboy hats, illustrating the wide schism between local ranchers and environmentalists on this issue.
"It's hard to find a species in the West that provokes more passionate opinion from such a diverse range of people for more different reasons," said Chuck Bonham, Director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, "Before we open for public comment I ask that everyone keep it civil. At the end of the day we're all Californians."
His call for civility was pertinent as public understanding and opinion of the gray wolf's role in California's future is an area with limited common ground. Some see the gray wolf's listing as a non-issue as the species does not have a presence in the state, but the recent migration of a gray male wolf dubbed OR-7 across the Oregon border into Northern California has raised concerns that the wolves may be expanding their territory. As early as this morning a Portland-based news affiliate reported that OR-7's mate had a litter of pups
in the Siskiyous. The effect of wolves on livestock is a hot-button issue in many other states in which wolf packs are active, including Montana and Wyoming.
Bonham says that the department anticipates there will be an active wolf population in California within the next decade.
To this end, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife prepared a Wolf Management Plan. The management plan would include reparations for lost livestock and opportunities to manage the species through hunting. Many in favor of listing the wolf as an Endangered Species expressed the opinion that this is an inadequate response to the wolf's re-emergence in California, and they fear that, unprotected, wolves will be poisoned, shot or otherwise killed. Many livestock owners fear that if the wolf is listed as endangered they will have no way to defend their livestock against predation.
Public comment on the issue topped three hours and was punctuated by bursts of applause and the occasional exasperated sigh from either side. It included statements from local ranchers, activists, scientists, 1st District Supervisor Rex Bohn (against the listing), 3rd District Supervisor Mark Lovelace (for the listing), small children in furry hats, two speakers who burst into tears and at least one song.
"The wolf is a killing machine," said Supervisor Bohn.
"The wolf is a mother of us all," sang a pro-wolf supporter.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife's decision regarding the gray wolf will be decided at a later date.
Wolves are officially an endangered species in California. Natalynne DeLapp of the Environmental Protection Information Center confirmed this afternoon. That three of four California Fish and Wildlife commissioners approved the listing.