In August 2015, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife made a landmark announcement: Trail cameras in northern California had captured images of a pack of gray wolves. It included two adults and five loping pups, all with unusual black coats.
That made the group the first pack to settle in the state in almost a century. Gray wolves were once common in California, but by 1924 their population had been exterminated. “This news is exciting for California,” department director Charlton H. Bonham said with the announcement. “We knew wolves would eventually return home to the state, and it appears now is the time.”
Then the pack vanished.
State biologists have not spotted the wolves, which were dubbed the “Shasta Pack” because of their presence in the county home to Mount Shasta, since May, the San Francisco Chronicle reported last week. That’s puzzling because wolf packs typically stick to their territory. Then again, a lack of other wolves nearby could mean the family felt free to roam more widely.
“We’re reasonably confident that last year they did not use the same area as a pack as they did the year before, and we don’t know why,” Pete Figura, a senior environmental scientist for the department, told the Chronicle. “Why they were not detected anywhere else this past summer we don’t have a clear explanation for.”
Gray wolves are listed as endangered under both federal and California endangered species laws, which prohibit their killing. Some local ranchers weren’t delighted by the wolves’ arrival, especially after the pack was implicated in the death of a calf in October 2015. But Figura told the Chronicle that officials have no evidence the wolf family has been killed.
For now, he said, officials are awaiting DNA analysis of wolf scat found earlier this year near Siskiyou County, where the pack used to hang out. None of the wolves has been captured and fitted with a radio collar, which biologists use to track wild animals’ movements.
So if you’re in northern California or southern Oregon — gray wolves, like the celebrated wolf OR-7, have been known to cross the border at will — keep your eyes peeled for a pack. If you spot one, you can contact the California Department of Fish and Wildlife here.