Range of gray wolves grows in state — female spotted near Tahoe ski resort
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.”
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.
California wolf OR-7, the first wolf in the state since 1924, is the father of the wolf seen near Tahoe.