Wild wolves have been a passion of mine since I took a family trip to Alaska in the fourth grade. As a child, my life goal was to be ‘the Jane Goodall of wolves’. I was introduced to California Wolf Center in 2008 when I took a tour of the conservation center in Julian, CA. I began working for the organization in 2012 and truly appreciate the innovation the organization brings to their mission of wild wolf recovery.
Whether Little Red Riding Hood or Romulus and Remus, wolves have always been surrounded by myths and fairytales. Human communities do not view wolves as the wild animals they purely are – hunting, raising pups, defending their territory, surviving – rather they have become symbols for rewilding, government overreach, or righting a past wrong. In my experience, human perception is the greatest obstacle to wolf recovery.
In 2011, wild wolves returned to California for the first time in nearly a century. A gray wolf who earned the nickname Journey, traveled over 1,200 miles from Northeastern Oregon into the Golden State. Wild wolf recovery in California was no longer a hope (or a dread), but a reality. In 2015, the first gray wolf pack was discovered in California since modern day wolf recovery began – the Shasta Pack! Most recently, the Lassen Pack was found in none other than Lassen County. Coincidentally, Lassen County was where the last wild wolf of California was shot in 1924 during the government led antipredator campaigns that eradicated wild wolves from our nation.
As wild wolves return to the Golden State, California Wolf Center is finding a way forward. A path that moves beyond the divisive rhetoric that saturates the conversation of wild wolf recovery. We look to support the stewards of our open space and the communities sharing the landscape with wild wolves – Northern California’s ranchers. We have established Working Circle Proactive Stewardship, a community empowered initiative dedicated to ensuring that shared wild and working landscapes can thrive in the modern world. Through Working Circle, we offer real and tangible support that inspires ranching communities to come together along with individual landowners to develop, implement, and manage proactive strategies to reduce the potential for wolf/livestock conflict long term.
Integral to Working Circle, is our Range Steward program, of which Oakland Zoo is a critical partner. Range Stewards are comprehensively trained “range riders” with an in-depth understanding of progressive stockmanship, livestock husbandry, the diverse local landscapes, wolf biology and ecology, prey travel and behavior, and wildlife tracking. This holistic program of range stewardship, not only provides a critical interface between livestock and predators, but through low-stress stockmanship, husbandry, and natural predator defense practices, the Stewards set up a scenario for significantly reducing vulnerability in cattle even without the continued presence of humans.
I look forward to speaking about this work, California’s modern day wild wolf recovery and the obstructive gap between urban and rural communities at Oakland Zoo on March 22nd!
Christina Souto, Director of California Wolf Recovery, California Wolf Center