NEWS

Gray wolf spotted in Ventura County may not stick around. Here's why

Cheri Carlson
Ventura County Star

A gray wolf spotted recently in northern Ventura County – likely the first in nearly a century – may not stick aroundfor long.

The young wolf matched the description of OR-93, aradio-collaredmale born in northern Oregon in 2019 and in California last January.

Over the next three months, he traveled more than 900 miles, presumably looking for other wolves and a female wolf in particular, said John Benson, a wildlife ecologist and assistant professor at the University of Nebraska.

“He’s not finding that and probably just keeps going and keeps looking,” Benson said.

Other wolves could be in the area, but wildlife officials say that's unlikely.

Historically, gray wolves, a native species, were found throughout the state. The mammal was likely extirpated from California in the 1920s. 

gray wolf crossed into Northern California from Oregon in late 2011, becoming the first of its kind in the state in decades. The wolf, known as OR-7, stayed mostly in southern Oregon. But its appearance in California sparked debate about wolves returning to the state after a hiatus of nearly 90 years.

Others followed after OR-7, and in 2014 officials listed gray wolves as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act, making them illegal to hunt, trap, harass or harm. 

Three packs now call California home, all in northern parts of the state.

A wolf spotted in Ventura County likely is the first to venture this far south.

"We have evidence that one has come down here," said Jordan Traverso, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. "If one can get down here that has a collar on it, that means that it is possible that others could be down here as well."

Possible, but not probable, she said.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife released this February 2021 photo of OR-93, a young male wolf that may have traveled through northern Ventura County this month. The radio collar seen here stopped transmitting in April, making it difficult for biologists to track his travel.

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Fitted with a purple tracking collar, OR-93 traversed Modoc, Lassen, Alpine and a half dozen other counties before crossing Highway 99 and Interstate 5.

State wildlife officials reported he showed up in San Luis Obispo County on April 5, the last transmission before his collar appeared to stop working.

Little was known about his whereabouts until August. The agency received trail camera footage of a gray wolf in southwest Kern County, Ventura County's northern neighbor.

The video was recorded in May and later discovered and turned over to the agency in August. A month later, three new reports described a wolf with a purple collar in northern Ventura County.

The wildlife agency responded to the area and found wolf tracks.

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Traverso called it probable that the wolf spotted was OR-93 but stopped short of confirming his identity. To do so, the agency needs DNA or some sort of forensic evidence.

"They are looking to see if there is any hair or scat that could be analyzed for DNA evidence," she said.

Years ago, when wildlife officials mapped potential wolf habitat, they found most of the suitable land in Northern California, said Amaroq Weiss, senior wolf advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity.

But some spots also showed up farther south, near the Ventana Wilderness along the Big Sur Coast and Los Padres National Forest.

"He traveled there by his instinct," Weiss said or OR-93. "He basically walked the map."

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The distance a wolf travels to find a mate can be as short as a neighboring pack or as long as hundreds of miles. In some cases, food and breeding opportunities exist nearby, but a wolf keeps going.

“It’s not really always clear why,” Benson said.

In this case, the relatively small number of wolves in the state could be the reason, he said.

State wildlife officials said they are looking for an opportunity to fit a working collar on the wolf. But Traverso called it a long shot.

"Even though we have these three sightings and tracks, we still don't actually know where the wolf is right now," she said. 

Gray wolves are not a safety risk for humans, although they may pose a risk to livestock, according to the wildlife agency.

For more information or to report a gray wolf sighting, go to wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Mammals/Gray-Wolf.

Cheri Carlson covers the environment for the Ventura County Star. Reach her at cheri.carlson@vcstar.com or 805-437-0260.