Wolf sighting and tracks in CA
Michelle Harris, Samantha Winiecki-Love, Ryan Slezak and Colibri Ecological Consulting. from the California Department of Fish and Game

New Pack of Endangered Gray Wolves Found in Sierra Nevadas

The new pack was discovered 200 miles south of the next nearest wolf pack in California.

Researchers are howling with excitement after a new pack of gray wolves has turned up in California's Sierra Nevada mountains.

In July, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) received a report of a wolf sighting from within the Sequoia National Forest. CDFW investigated the location and found tracks and other wolf signs. They collected 12 scat and hair samples for genetic testing.

All samples were confirmed as being from gray wolves, and the CDFW confirmed the existence of a new pack in Tulare County.

From the testing, researchers have determined that the new pack has at least five wolves that weren't known to have lived in California before: an adult female and her four pups. DNA testing found that the adult female is a direct descendant of a far-ranging male wolf known as OR7, or "Journey."

In 2011, Journey wandered south from Oregon and became the first wolf spotted in California in almost a century, spending time in the shadow of Mount Shasta, a volcano in northern California.

Journey later returned to Oregon and is believed to have died there.

A New Generation of Wanderers

Wolf scat and tracks from the new California pack.

Photos courtesy of Michelle Harris, Samantha Winiecki-Love, Ryan Slezak and Colibri Ecological Consulting, from California Department of Fish and Game.

Journey apparently passed on his wandering genes to his descendants before his death, though. The newly discovered pack is several hundred miles south of any other known wolf population.

The next nearest pack, known as the Lassen pack, is at least 200 miles away in Lassen Park in northeastern California. Based on the genetic profiles, researchers believe that the pups in the new pack are descended from the Lassen pack.

Two other packs exist in California: the Beckwourth pack, which appeared in 2021, in south Lassen and Plumas counties; and the Whaleback pack of eastern Siskiyou County and northern Shasta County. The Whaleback pack was first spotted in 2020; and in 2022, a breeding pair in the pack gave birth to eight wolf pups, the largest California litter in a century.

Wolves were hunted to extinction in California in the 1920s, and it's only been in the past decade that wolves have started wandering into the state from out-of-state packs. Gray wolves have been protected in California under the Endangered Species Act since 2014, and it is illegal to hunt, pursue, capture, or kill them.

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