California officials decided Wednesday to add the gray wolf to the state’s endangered species list, extending protections to the animal.
The state’s Fish and Game Commission voted 3-1 at a meeting in Fortuna in favor of the listing, which will keep the animal safe from hunters’ crosshairs. The decision requires a second vote in August to become final.
The debate over whether to list the wolf pitted cattle ranchers, who consider the predator a threat to valuable herds, against those who wish to see the packs again flourish.
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 against sending a letter in support of the listing last week.
Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace, who cast the dissenting vote, said the state needs to plan ahead to address potential conflicts with Northern California seeing its first wolf since 1924.
Several members of the public said that the county should not support reintroducing a species known to cause problems, including ranchers who also attended the Fortuna meeting on Wednesday along with environmentalists who supported the listing.
“We are very concerned about listing the wolf under the California Endangered Species Act,” Justin Oldfield, vice president of governmental relationships for the California Cattlemen’s Association, said before the vote.
Amaroq Weiss of the Center for Biological Diversity, which leads the push for protection, said there are places where wolves and livestock exist together.
“There are definitely avenues for not only tolerating wolves, but accepting wolves,” she said. “This was their home before it was ours.”
Nationwide, bounty hunting and poisoning drove wolves to widespread extermination in the early 1900s. They have rebounded in recent decades, and federal protections have been lifted in the last several years in the Northern Rockies and western Great Lakes.
The state commission decided to put off a decision at a meeting in April, wishing first to hear more public comment.
The debate comes into focus as a lone wolf — named OR-7 — began roaming into Northern California from Oregon in 2011.
That’s when the wolf was the seventh in Oregon to be fitted with a GPS tracking collar. He and his mate have produced pups. Biologists made the determination after traveling Monday to a site in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest east of Medford, where photos and a GPS tracking collar showed the wolf known as OR-7 has been living with a mate.
They saw two pups peering out from a pile of logs and may have heard more, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said.