May 28, 1999
WHEN MY GREAT grandfather was born at San Francisco's Presidio in 1866, California was still wild. Grizzly bears, wolves and jaguars roamed the state's hinterlands. Flocks of ducks blanketed San Francisco Bay and large pods of whales cruised the state's shores.
When my grandfather worked for the U.S. Forest Service near Chico in the 1920s, most wild grizzlies had been wiped out and wolves were extremely rare. In the next decade, while my mother was walking amid Santa Cruz Mountain wildflowers, the flow of jaguars across the Mexican border slowed, and many whale populations were so low that whaling stopped being profitable. And when I was born in Los Altos, the last few South Bay duck hunters were looking for the last waterfowl after habitat destruction had taken its toll in what is now known as Silicon Valley.
In four short generations, truly wild California had evaporated, and we were all poorer for the loss. So what is left for us? Perpetual mourning for our lost heritage? No. Hope springs eternal in the field of restoration biology.
Although we now have barely enough jaguars and grizzlies for the nation's most remote areas, that is not true of the wolf. Successful wolf reintroductions in Yellowstone and Central Idaho offer promise for reintroductions elsewhere. Indeed, the Idaho wolves are already expanding on their own: In March, a Central Idaho wolf crossed into Eastern Oregon where wolves have not roamed for decades.
In 2000, about 50 of the Central Idaho wolves will be old enough to leave home. One new home could be Northeastern California, except for two barriers.
One obstacle is the inveterate hatred of wolves that still prevails. This hatred led the American Farm Bureau Federation to seek — and win — a 1997 court order stopping wolf restoration in Yellowstone and Idaho. The Farm Bureau took this action even though the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction program is wildly popular and the fastest path to delisting the Northern Rockies wolf from the federal Endangered Species Act. Defenders of Wildlife, which compensates ranchers throughout the wolf recovery area for wolf-related livestock losses, is leading the legal appeal.
The second major hurdle comes from the very folks charged with protecting the wolf — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Federal biologists, in their upcoming reclassification of wolves, apparently have excluded California and Nevada from participating in wolf recovery. There is no obvious biological rationale for this action.
The wolf will soon have its day in court when the Yellowstone lawsuit is argued. If the order to remove the Yellowstone and Idaho wolves is not overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals, Defenders has vowed to continue the fight all the way to the Supreme Court. The other barrier must be solved in the court of public opinion. Californians need to let the wildlife service know that they want to be participants in wolf recovery. Let the wolves come.
(This article was originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle when Bob Ferris was with Defenders of Wildlife)