Rick Lamplugh's Blog

Posted: 15 Feb 2021 


The US Fish and Wildlife Service has delisted gray wolves across the Lower 48. In my previous briefing, I described the situation for delisted wolves in the Great Lakes area. The USFWS claims that the wolf population in the Great Lakes area has recovered enough to sustain wolf populations elsewhere. They add that the few wolves that occur “outside of the Great Lakes area, including those in the West Coast States and central Rocky Mountains as well as lone dispersers in other states, are not necessary…” for the recovered status of wolves in the Lower 48. 

In this second briefing, we'll take a look at the situation for the more than 300 delisted wolves living in the West Coast states.



The California Department of Wildlife (CDFW) reported on January 21, 2021 that there are seven known wolves living in California. Three weeks later CDFW announced that another wolf had entered the state.

Though native to California, the gray wolf had been eradicated from the state by 1924. Wolves are ever so slowly returning on their own by dispersing from neighboring Oregon and other states. While California wolves are no longer protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, they are still protected under California’s Endangered Species Act. Shooting at or injuring a wolf, even if is attacking livestock or a dog, is illegal and punishable by fines of tens of thousands of dollars and prison time.

California’s first pack of returning wolves, the Shasta pack, was created by two wolves from Oregon’s Imnaha pack. The male and female and their five pups were confirmed in August 2015. The pack was observed feeding on a cow carcass in November 2015, and investigators determined the wolves had likely killed the calf. The pack vanished after that incident, except for one yearling who was discovered in northwestern Nevada a year later. 

California’s second pack—the only established pack in the state now—is the Lassen pack. The pack produced four pups in 2017, five in 2018, and four in 2019, all from the same female of unknown origin. The male who mated with that female had dispersed from Oregon’s Rogue pack. He has not been seen with the Lassen pack since June of 2019. 

In 2020 a new male in the Lassen pack—his origin also unknown—mated with the packs original breeding female and her subadult daughter. They produced at least nine pups. As of January 2021, CDFW states that the Lassen pack contains at least five wolves.

Other wolves are reaching California. OR-85, a male from Oregon’s Mt. Emily pack, entered California on November 3, 2020. He was one and a half years old at the time. In December, trail cameras and tracks showed him traveling with another wolf. The two are pictured in the above trail cam photo from CDFW. Early this February, a CDFW representative told the Associated Press that OR-85’s partner is likely a female and the pair seems to be establishing a territory. 

Another disperser, OR-93 a male from Oregon's White River pack, entered California on January 30.

Consider that since 2015, wolves have entered California and have produced at least 27 pups. Yet with this influx and births the state currently has a resident population of only seven wolves. Where have all these wolves gone? 

Certainly some died by poaching even while California wolves were protected by both federal and state laws. OR-59, a male from northeastern Oregon, for example, entered California in December 2018 and was found shot a week later. His poaching is under investigation. 

Then there was OR-54, a female from Oregon's Rogue pack. She dispersed as a two-year old to California in January 2018. She spent most of her time in California but also made two trips back to Oregon. In September 2019, she even crossed Interstate 80 and briefly entered Nevada before returning to California, crossing the Interstate yet again. She covered more than 8,710 miles after leaving the Rogue pack. Sadly, adventurous OR-54 was found dead in California in February 2020. Her death remains under investigation.

Protection is important if wolves from elsewhere are going to come to California, breed, and create new packs. "With federal protections removed from wolves recently almost everywhere across the country," says Amaroq Weiss, a senior West Coast wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, "the protections provided by California's state endangered species act are all the more essential for wolves on the West Coast." 



The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) currently counts 158 wolves in Oregon. Almost all are in the eastern half of the state as shown in the ODFW map below.

Gray wolves, native to Oregon, had been eradicated from the state by the late 1940s. One of the first wolves to return naturally to Oregon arrived from Idaho in 1999. The disperser was captured and unceremoniously hauled right back to where she came from. Within the next two years three other dispersers from Idaho were found dead in Oregon, one killed by a car, two poached. By 2008 Oregon had its first pack and pups. Three years later, in 2011, wolves in the eastern third of Oregon lost protection under the federal Endangered Species Act and came under the management of ODFW.

By 2015, with only around 78 adult wolves in the state, ODFW and its Commission ignored the recommendation of independent scientists and said wolves no longer needed state Endangered Species Act protection. Then legislators passed a bill that essentially blocked conservation organizations from challenging that delisting in court.

ODFW states that hunting and trapping of wolves is prohibited statewide. It is unlawful to shoot a wolf except in defense of human life, or in certain circumstances when a wolf is attacking livestock. (ODFW reports that wolves have never attacked humans since returning to Oregon.) Illegally shooting a wolf is punishable with a fine of more than $6,000 and a year in jail.

That said, the future for Oregon's wolves--with no state or federal protection--still looks dangerous. Oregon Wild, a conservation organization, reports on its website that the latest update to Oregon’s Wolf Plan “significantly erodes protections for wolves by lowering the threshold for when the state can kill wolves, removing requirements for non lethal conflict deterrence, and opening the door toward public hunting and trapping.” 

Oregon Wild's concern is reinforced by an article in the Capital Press. This weekly newspaper that informs the agricultural community reported that ranchers now have more leeway under Oregon law to kill wolves than they did under the federal law. The article explained to ranchers how they must satisfy two requirements to kill wolves that kill livestock. “First, they must have used at least one nonlethal measure to protect their livestock from wolves ‘prior to and on the day of the incident of depredation,’ according to the law. Second, they must have removed or neutralized ‘reasonably accessible unnatural attractants of potential wolf-livestock conflict,’ such as bones or carcasses, at least seven days before the depredation.”



Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) reports that at the end of 2019, there were at least 145 wolves living in 26 packs in the state. 

WDFW reports that wolves were once common throughout most of Washington but disappeared because of trapping, poisoning, and hunting as ranchers and farmers settled the state between 1850 and 1900. By the 1930s wolves were gone. But wolves have returned by dispersing from places like Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia. 

In 2008 WDFW documented in north central Washington the state’s first resident pack. This is the same year Oregon documented its first pack.

In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ended ESA protection for wolves in the eastern third of the state but preserved protection for wolves in the western two-thirds (just like in Oregon). Now, with the delisting of gray wolves nationally, there is no federal protection for Washington wolves.

However, the wolf was listed as endangered by the State of Washington in the early 1980s and still receives protection under state law from hunting, possession, malicious harassment, and killing. Penalties for illegally killing a state endangered species range up to $5,000 and/or one year in jail.

Washington’s wolf recovery activities are guided by a Wolf Plan that was adopted in 2011. Under that plan, Washington, as shown in the WDFW map above, is divided into three Recovery Regions: Eastern Washington, the Northern Cascades, and the Southern Cascades and Northwest Coast. Most packs roam across public and private land in the northeast corner of the state, but increasing numbers are present in southeast Washington and the north-central region.

To help implement that wolf plan, Washington has a Wolf-Livestock Interaction Protocol. Unfortunately, that protocol does not require livestock operations to use nonlethal deterrents to keep livestock and wolves separate and alive. This means that even though operators have ignored nonlethal deterrents, WDFW can come in and kill wolves in response to livestock conflicts. And kill they do. Since 2012, WDFW has slaughtered 34 state-protected wolves in response to livestock conflicts. The majority of those wolves died because of conflicts with the cattle of just one livestock producer. The Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands, Western Watersheds Project, and WildEarth Gaurdians challenged this protocol and a process to make a new rule has begun.    

What is behind this drive to slaughter Washington wolves? The Western Environmental Law Center, a group fighting the national wolf delisting, quotes Timothy Coleman, director of Washington’s Kettle Range Conservation Group as saying, “The finger on the trigger of wolf slaughter is driven by anti-government fanatics who foment fear, lies and mistrust. The Endangered Species Act makes such hostility to wild nature more difficult, more closely watched.” Coleman goes on to say that eighty-five percent of the wolves killed in Washington were in the Kettle River Range where the wolf was delisted from the federal Endangered Species Act. He believes this loss of federal protection has stopped wolves from dispersing to public lands such as Mount Rainier and Olympia National Park.



Sooner or later, with delisting in effect, more wolves will die in California, Oregon, Washington, and the Lower 48. Hopefully, the courts will eventually roll back the recent delisting because of low wolf numbers, loss of wolf habitat, and lack of scientific rigor. But there is no guarantee. 

Given that the fate of wolves will likely be in the hands of state and tribal agencies for some time, we must advocate for wolves at that level. Here’s a link to the Center for Biological Diversity page where you can tell the governors of states with wolves to act in a way that helps wolves recover.  

We can also ask the Biden administration to begin the process of restoring ESA protections for gray wolves. Here’s a link to the WildEarth Guardians page and a petition you can sign.

Legal battles are expensive and you can help by donating to the organizations that are fighting the delisting in court. The Western Environmental Law Center represents WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project, Cascadia Wildlands, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Environmental Protection Information Center, The Lands Council, Wildlands Network, and Klamath Forest Alliance.


Earthjustice represents Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Oregon Wild, National Parks Conservation Association, and The Humane Society of the United States. 


The Natural Resources Defense Council has also sued the USFWS over the delisting.


Thanks for taking action, and I’ll keep you updated as this battle progresses.


Image Credits: 

Wolf by tree via ODFW

OR-85 and mate via CDFW

Oregon map via ODFW

Washington map via WDFW


To read the previous briefing: Impact of Delisting on Great Lakes Wolves



Rick Lamplugh writes, photographs, and speaks to protect wildlife and wild lands.


His bestselling In the Temple of Wolves; its sequel, Deep into Yellowstone; and its prequel, The Wilds of Aging are available signed. His books are also available unsigned or as eBook or audiobook on Amazon.

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