Wolf, © Didier J. Lindsey

New Study Maps the Way for California Wolves, Highlights Key Strategies for Coexistence

Now that wolves have returned to California after a nearly 90-year absence, where are they most likely to live? Will their new territories overlap significantly with grazing lands and create conflicts with livestock? What kind of proactive strategies are most feasible for northern California ranchers to implement on their operations to keep both livestock and wolves safe from harm?

These are important questions if we are going to have successful wolf recovery in California. Getting better insight on these questions will help protect both wolves and ranchers by reducing the risk of potential predation by wolves on livestock, and thereby reducing conflicts.

Shasta Pack pups, © Defenders of Wildlife
A dynamic duo reunites: Defenders and the Bren School
To help us answer these questions, we partnered with the UC Santa Barbara Bren School of Environmental Science and Management. The Bren School focuses on finding science-based solutions to environmental problems, and has a well-earned reputation as one of the top schools of its kind in the nation. The Bren Master’s Program challenges students to use real world scenarios to solve environmental problems faced by an actual client that has a real interest in the outcome.

This is the second time Defenders’ California Program has worked with the Bren School. Our first Bren School project focused on identifying areas for solar energy development in the San Joaquin Valley in a way that avoids or minimizes adverse impacts to wildlife, habitat and high-resource value agricultural lands. We truly enjoyed our partnership with Bren and were so pleased with the professional-level results that we jumped at the opportunity to work with them again.

Bren Students, AKA “Los Lobos” Map Conflict Hotspots
Our wolf proposal to Bren was accepted by a five-member group of graduate students that promptly dubbed themselves Los Lobos. Their overarching project goal was to help ranchers and livestock producers in northern California reduce the likelihood of conflicts with wolves. Their key objectives were to:

  • Analyze current or potential livestock grazing areas, and overlap those with areas where experts believe gray wolves will live, in order to map out where wolf-livestock conflict could most likely happen.
  • Recommend proactive strategies for livestock producers in northern California to use to reduce conflicts between livestock and wolves.

To complete the first project objective, Los Lobos identified potentially suitable wolf habitat using three separate models that looked at many different variables that can make an area good or bad habitat for wolves. These included things like how much forest cover there is, how much prey is available, how many humans live nearby, who owns the land, and how many roads cut through the area.

Los Lobos found that prey density and forest cover ended up being the most important factors. Once they mapped predicted wolf habitat, the team overlaid a map of grazing lands statewide to identify potential conflict hotspots:

Potential Conflict Hotspot Map, © Defenders of Wildlife Survey Says…
The team then developed and distributed a survey to livestock producers in seven northern California counties closest to the Oregon border where California’s wolves are most likely to originate: Del Norte, Humboldt, Trinity, Siskiyou, Shasta, Modoc and Lassen. These counties were also selected because agriculture, especially livestock production, makes up a large part of their economies. The survey was designed to collect information on general attitudes towards wolves in the area, and get a feel for how open livestock producers might be to taking new, proactive measures to reduce potential conflicts with wolves. It asked about specific tools and strategies that could work in the area, including special fencing, alarms and scare devices, livestock guardian dogs, changing timing and/or location of grazing or birthing season of young, increasing human presence with range riders, and removing attractants like injured or sick cattle and carcasses.

Range Rider monitoring cattle and wolf activity in Wallowa County, © Diana Hunter

And the results were…California can be wolf-friendly!
The team’s model predicted more than 50,000 square kilometers (or 19,305 square miles) of potential suitable wolf habitat in California. This habitat is primarily found on forested lands in the northwestern part of the state from the Oregon border south through Mendocino County, southern Cascades and portions of the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Since livestock grazing occurs in much of northern California on both private and public lands, there is extensive overlap between predicted wolf habitat and grazing lands. Lands in western Siskiyou and Shasta counties, eastern Humboldt County, much of Trinity County, the southern Cascades and northern Sierra foothills all include potential conflict hotspots.

Removing attractants and using range riders across the vast rangelands in northern California ranked high on the list of the most preferred and feasible options for avoiding conflicts between wolves and livestock. One way to encourage more producers to take on these methods is through cost-sharing programs, which Defenders and other conservation groups have done successfully in other states.

It’s worth noting that all seven strategies listed in the survey are effectively being used by at least some livestock producers in northern California in an effort to protect their livestock from wolves and other predators. And that’s why Defenders continues to work with northern California ranchers. As wolves continue to return to this landscape, we’ll help livestock producers test different tools and strategies to determine the best way to keep their livestock and California’s wolves safe.

16 Responses to “New Study Maps the Way for California Wolves, Highlights Key Strategies for Coexistence”

  1. Josephine Viscito

    Is it possible for Bren and Defenders to exend their work to other states the analyzing and education of ranchers, so wolves already in those areas or those who can be introduced into those areas can have a much better chance of survival?

  2. Barbara fields

    Gods creatures were created before he created man. Everything we have is a gift from God. Stop killing his creations

    • Andre

      Correct – and man was given the responsibility of naming the animals. We are supposed to find ways for everything to co-exist… We’re not supposed to just kill any off as happened to many animals in North America. Thankfully some are recovering.

  3. eusebio manuel vestias pecurto vestias

    Solutions and alternatives to Wolves California such species are endangered

  4. A Jensen

    I hope so they are beautiful animals finally someone cares. To protect them rather than hurt them.

    • Wendy Louise Sells

      with the wild wolfs should be left all alone except have some-body go up into the hills were the wolfs are at and feed them and take good care of all of the wild wolfs but I mean all of the wolfs and make sure that nothing has happened to them at all. from Wendy Sells a wolf lover.

  5. Sharon

    Is it not time to address the real cause of all environmental problems… it is human overpopulation. Now is the time for humans to stop being greeding and selfish for our own selves, and to put wildlife first. There are millions of humans in America – yet only a few hundred wolves. This is truly insane and gravely imbalanced. Industrialized farming is causing much problems, not a few wolves. How terrible it is for humans to only think of themselves, when the time is now to think and put wildlife, nature and the environment first. Thank you for considering this outlook. We love all animals.

  6. Karen Osgood

    Maybe it’s time to get the livestock out of our national forests?

  7. nancy blastos

    Public lands belong to all animal species. By spending a minimal amount, ranchers can save wolf recovery instead of engaging in their blood lust to hunt, torturer and kill wolves who serve a needed part of our ecology. Sometimes it may cost a bit for sustainability but it is worth it.XOX

  8. Roseann

    Please send help to Arizona and New Mexico. Please, members of the Bren School team help the few remaining lobos before they are completely destroyed by Senators McCain and Flake. Thank you.

  9. Anna Drechsler

    It would be fantastic if Defenders and other wildlife advocates could reach to ranchers in other states( Idaho,Wyoming) who vissiously prosecute wolfs living on public lands

  10. Starr Goode

    I am a firm believer that we can keep live stock and wolves safe. After all wolves are needed and were here first. Lets work with Defenders and make everyone happy!

  11. Philip Ratcliff

    I see on the map, that wolves and livestock may come into contact in the Sierra Nevada mountains. I hiked in the Sierras when I lived in Sacramento County. It was about a 60 mile drive up Highway 50. The cattle are allowed to graze in the mountains in the summer.
    I saw the damage that they did. I wouldn’t mind if some cattle were eaten by wolves! Sometimes I’d walk by a herd of cattle. The big bull would stand there, eyeing me. It was in the open, and no place to take cover if the damn thing charged.

  12. Susan Morse

    I am so happy that Callif. Is taking a progressive stance on wolf recovery and coexistence between wolves, cattle and humans. The slaughterering needs to stop. There are many options available towels in protecting cattle from wolves. It is time the US celebrated its wildlife rather than decimating our iconic apex predators. Look at what is occuring in Africa. Wolves have an ecological niche to fill and need to be left alone !!!

  13. Helen McGinnis

    I would like to see a similar study of potential mountain lion recolonization of the East and Midwest. With wolves in California, the main problem is livestock depredation. With mountain lions, it is the perception that they will reduce deer populations. In many states, this is desirable, but state wildlife agencies are supported by hunters’ licenses and excise taxes on guns & ammo. Could a school such as La Bren initiate a study?

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