The Sacramento Bee reported last Sunday that a single grey wolf has migrated from northeastern Oregon (go to http://www.sacbee.com/2011/12/11/4114710/will-cry-of-the-wolf-return-to.html#storylink=misearch for the article). This wolf, which descended from wolves that were reintroduced to the Northern Rockies in 1995, "could be in Yreka in two days," according to a California Department of Fish and Game official quoted in the article. The last California wolf was killed in Trinity County in 1924.
I'm feeling conflicted about this development. On the one hand, I love what I do for a living in part because I get to part of the natural world - I get to work outside in relatively wild habitat nearly every day. I'm thrilled when I see wildlife - including the large predators that inhabit our area (mountain lions, black bears and coyotes). On the other hand, I have a responsibility to care for my livestock - they depend on me for safety. We use non-lethal methods of protecting our sheep from predators (electric fencing, livestock guardian dogs and llamas), which have so far proven very effective. Despite our commitment to living with the predators in our environment, I would not hesitate to protect my sheep if I observed an actual predator attack. (Note: the only sheep we've lost to predators were killed by a neighbor's dog - and we didn't have a guardian animal with the sheep at the time).
Wolves are a different matter entirely. I'll admit that I'd be thrilled to see one in the wild (from a distance!), but I'd also be extremely concerned for the safety of my animals. I know sheep producers in the Rockies who have had livestock guardian dogs killed by wolves - coyotes and mountain lions generally won't attack a guardian dog. I know other producers who have lost mature cows to wolves.
Wolves may also change the dynamic in terms of human relationships around ranching and rangelands in California. In the last 10 years, we've made tremendous strides in finding common ground between environmentalists and ranchers. The California Rangeland Conservation Coalition, for example, is a collection of ranchers, agency staff and environmentalists who are committed to protecting habitat by maintaining viable ranches on these lands. In other states, wolves have proven to be a polarizing force politically. I hope we have time to strengthen our relationships over the management of rangelands before for we must deal with the arrival of wolves in California.