Range of gray wolves grows in state — fe­male spot­ted near Ta­hoe ski re­sort

San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday) - - BAY AREA - By Peter Fim­rite

The wan­der­ing daugh­ter of Cal­i­for­nia’s famed first wolf made a pi­o­neer­ing trek into the Bay Area’s fa­vorite moun­tain play­ground, ex­tend­ing the reach of the wild ca­nines al­most as far as the Sierra ski re­sorts sur­round­ing Lake Ta­hoe.

Wildlife bi­ol­o­gists tracked the 2-year-old wolf, known as OR-54, us­ing her GPS col­lar, to within 1½ miles of the Bo­real Moun­tain ski area, off In­ter­state 80 at Don­ner Sum­mit, making her the first wild gray wolf con­firmed in Ne­vada County in at least a cen­tury.

The spo­radic sig­nal, which logs a lo­ca­tion roughly every three hours, cap­tured the animal at 3 p.m. on June 8 trav­el­ing south along the ridges west of Truc­kee to­ward Bo­real, a ski area pop­u­lar in the sum­mer for hik­ing, moun­tain bik­ing and camp­ing.

Kent Laudon, a wolf specialist for the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Fish and Wildlife, said he doesn’t know from the spotty sig­nal whether the wolf crossed I-80. The next lo­ca­tion, which came six hours later, showed that the wolf had turned back north and crossed

into Sierra County, where she had been hang­ing out be­fore.

“It did a hi and good­bye,” to the Sierra re­sort area, Laudon said.

The ex­cur­sion came dur­ing OR-54’s sec­ond trip through Cal­i­for­nia. The wolf, so named be­cause she is the 54th lobo col­lared in Ore­gon, trav­eled 508 miles from Jan. 23 to Feb. 19 through four coun­ties, much of it over the same ground her fa­ther, OR-7, cov­ered from 2011 to 2013, when he be­came the first wolf in Cal­i­for­nia since 1924.

Dur­ing that trip she av­er­aged about 18 miles a day, and ac­tu­ally trav­eled 48 miles dur­ing one 15-hour pe­riod. She was recorded on a video that was shared on YouTube near the town of Ch­ester, in Plumas County, be­fore she went back to Ore­gon, where her 9-yearold fa­ther is the al­pha male of the Rogue Pack, south of Crater Lake Na­tional Park.

The lat­est ex­cur­sion into the Golden State be­gan April 14, Lau­den said. This time she has trav­eled 633 miles, av­er­ag­ing about 11 miles a day.

“We call it ex­trater­ri­to­rial move­ment, which can be a pre­cur­sor to ac­tual dis­per­sal,” Laudon said. “The guess is that the an­i­mals that do that are look­ing for a mate.”

Wildlife bi­ol­o­gists re­gard the re-es­tab­lish­ment of Ca­nis lu­pus in Cal­i­for­nia as a mile­stone in the coun­try’s decades-long ef­fort to pro­tect and pre­serve nat­u­ral habi­tats and en­dan­gered species. Up to 2 mil­lion gray wolves once lived in North Amer­ica, but Euro­pean set­tlers drove them to near-ex­tinc­tion over the past 150 years in the lower 48 states.

Four of OR-7’s prog­eny have been de­tected in Cal­i­for­nia this year and last. One of his sons en­tered Cal­i­for­nia and started the Lassen Pack, which is of­ten seen in the In­dian Val­ley area north of Quincy, in Plumas County. Known as CA-08M, he and his mate have had four pup­pies, three of which were spot­ted by lo­cals and on trail cam­eras in late March.

One of the great mys­ter­ies is how wolves de­cide where to go and how to find one an­other. Laudon said OR-54 vis­ited Lassen Pack ter­ri­tory on her way south, spend­ing a night three­quar­ters of a mile away from their den.

“There's no doubt there was some in­ter­ac­tion. The Lassen fe­male went up to the area the next day and hung out,” he said. “You look at North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, how big it is (and) she went right through there. It seems more than a co­in­ci­dence.”

Laudon likened wolves to do­mes­tic dogs in that they both have a tremen­dous sense of smell, have in­cred­i­ble stamina and love to go on long walks.

“We know their sense of smell re­veals a whole ’nother di­men­sion to the world,” he said. “That's re­ally the story of dis­per­sal. Dis­pers­ing wolves go far. They are like the long-dis­tance run­ners of the animal world.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice

OR-54, a 2-year-old fe­male who has wan­dered more than 1,100 miles through Cal­i­for­nia, got within 1½ miles of a ski area.

Ore­gon Depart­ment of Fish and Wildlife 2014

Cal­i­for­nia wolf OR-7, the first wolf in the state since 1924, is the fa­ther of the wolf seen near Ta­hoe.

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