Gray wolf OR-54’s return to Nevada County part of ‘dispersal’ activity
Nevada County certainly has its fair share of wildlife, from the more commonly spotted deer and turkeys to the more elusive foxes, coyotes, mountain lions, bears and ring-tailed cats.
But the news that a gray wolf known as OR-54 — deemed “a traveling maniac” by one wolf expert — was tracked to Nevada County this January drew widespread interest. The nearly 3-year-old female wolf, born into Oregon’s Rogue Pack, was making her second visit since an initial foray in June of last year.
She was tracked last year to the Truckee area, the first known visit of a gray wolf to Nevada County since the early 1900s. Her tracking collar indicated she was near the Boreal Mountain ski area, about a mile and a half from Interstate 80.
The wolf first came to California on Jan. 24, 2018, entering eastern Siskiyou County and spending 28 days in the state, traveling through Shasta, Tehama and Plumas counties, before returning to Oregon and covering at least 506 miles, or about 18 per day. In mid-April, she came back to California and racked up at least 638 miles through five California counties.
After making her way into Nevada County, she returned to neighboring Sierra County, which California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials said was her home base in the state. The young wolf traveled back to Oregon in early November, but in late January she again visited Nevada County, this time near the former mining community of Gaston at 5,062 feet on the Gaston Ridge. Gaston is located a few miles south of Graniteville and about 4 miles northeast of the town of Washington in the Tahoe National Forest.
It is unclear why the wolf returned to Nevada County. Fish and Wildlife biologists are very interested in following her next moves, as the breeding season is only a few months away. She is up toward Sierra Valley currently, said Jordan Traverso, the deputy director of communications, education and outreach for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
OR-54’s “dispersal” activity is not unusual, Traverso said.
“Dispersal activity usually happens when a wolf is looking for a new pack, a mate, or its current pack has grown too large for the food source or range it’s in,” she said.
According to Traverso, there are a number of reasons why this one might have come this far south.
“Like all wild animals, they’ll likely go to where they can find suitable habitat (appropriate cover, food source) — which much of northern California offers.”
Unfortunately for local wolf fans, said Traverso, it’s not possible to predict where wolves will move, collared or not. So she might never return to Nevada County.
A little history
Gray wolves (canis lupus) are a native species that became extinct in California in the 1920s. California has not reintroduced gray wolves, but they are now returning on their own through dispersal of individuals from populations in other states.
The historical range of the wolf in California most likely included the Sierra Nevada, down into the Central Valley, the western slope of the Sierra Nevada foothills and mountains, and the Coast Ranges until the early 1800s. Wolves were likely killed to control predation on other animals. Other factors, including hunting, may also have contributed to their “extirpation” from California.
OR-54 is believed to be the daughter of OR-7, the first gray wolf to cross into California from Oregon in almost 90 years. OR-7 eventually settled back in southern Oregon, where he and a female established the Rogue Pack and have raised litters every year since 2014. Other wolves have since been found in California, some of which are from OR-7’s pack. The Lassen Pack is the only currently known wolf pack in the state.
OR-54, likely born in 2016, was collared by Oregon biologists in October 2017 and has been generally covering a lot of the same territory OR-7 did between 2011 and 2013, though he never went much farther south than Susanville.
Liz Kellar is a staff writer for The Union, a sister publication of the Sierra Sun. Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.