In early August 2015, for the first time in nearly a century, California welcomed wolves back to the state. What was first confirmed as a sighting of a mating pair resulted in another confirmation shortly after that this mating pair is raising a litter of 5 pups. This pack is named the Shasta pack.
A gray wolf, designated OR-7, was radio collared by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) in February 2011. Traveling more than 3,000 miles, the tracking data from the collar indicated this animal is from the Imnaha pack and entered California on December 28, 2011. The incredible trek of OR-7 and his visit to California in December 2011 marked the first time a wolf entered the California border again in nearly 90 years.
OR-7 spent close to one year wandering the wilds of northern California and returned to Oregon, found a mate and established a territory east of Ashland, Oregon. This pack is named the Rogue pack. As of July 2015, officials confirmed that OR-7, leader of the Rogue pack, sired a second litter of pups.
Coyotes are the species most commonly confused with wolves, so some of the best clues for identifying an animal are in the distributed by by USFWS. Coyotes are often seen because they are abundant throughout the Pacific West and can be somewhat bold.
One of the greatest differences between the two species is size, which can be difficult to estimate at a distance. A gray wolf is much larger than a coyote. Wolves weigh 80 to 120 pounds, while coyotes weigh 20 to 50 pounds. Track size measures about four by five inches for wolves, compared to two by two and a half inches for coyotes.
Ear shape is also much different; wolves have somewhat rounded ears while coyotes have taller, pointed ears. Wolves have a broader, shorter snout, while coyotes have a narrower, more pointed nose. A wolf’s howl is long and drawn out, while a coyote produces a shorter, yapping sound. Fur coloration can be quite similar between wolves and coyotes and therefore is not a good characteristic for separating the two species.
Large dogs and wolf-dog hybrids can also be mistaken for wolves, although they usually act more familiar with people. Wolf-dog hybrids can be unpredictable and aggressive. Some hybrids have been released into the wild, living like feral dogs. Distinctions between these hybrids and wild wolves can sometimes be made only by DNA testing. If you do see an animal you suspect may be a wolf, take a picture if possible, note the exact location, date, number of animals and what the animals are doing, and please let your state Fish and Wildlife department know.
- Washington: The best way to make a report is through WDFW’s Online Wolf Reporting Form or via the toll-free wildlife reporting hotline, 1-877-933-9847.
- Oregon: Make your report through ODFW’s reporting form or call your nearest field office.
- California: Contact the nearest CDFW Regional Office or the Headquarters Wildlife Branch.
Two broad summaries published in 2002 documented 28 reports of wolf aggression towards humans in North America from 1969 to 2001. Nineteen of these involved wolves habituated to people and five involved people accompanied by domestic dogs. There have been no physical attacks on people by wolves in Idaho, Montana, or Wyoming from the time wolf recovery began in the 1980s.
Wolves passing near, watching, or otherwise behaving in a non-threatening way near humans should not necessarily be considered dangerous. But wolves can become habituated to humans in areas where they regularly encounter humans or human food. To avoid habituation, wolves should never be fed or approached. If wolves seem too comfortable near people, or frequent roads or trails where close encounters are more likely, they should be hazed using non-lethal methods like air horns or other scare devices.
Wolves are just one of many factors affecting elk and deer populations. Others include harsh weather, poor habitat, high hunter harvest rates, and other predators such as cougars and bears. While wolves may contribute to the decline of a weak herd, experience in other states indicates they are seldom the primary cause of that condition.
Read more FAQs about gray wolves and the delisting proposal (USFWS)
*Largely adapted from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife.