Loss of a Predator: the Gray Wolf Vs. California

California's last solitary wolf was reportedly killed in 1924 in Lassen County. Once a widely distributed species throughout the Pacific Northwest, the settlement of European Americans brought the eradication of the Gray wolf from California.

Bounties on wolves had been established in Europe dating back to ancient Greece, so consequently European settlers came to America with this plan in mind. An early Plymouth Colony established a fine from "whoever shall shoot off a gun on an unnecessary occasion, or at any game except at an Indian or a wolf" (Hampton 63). Settlers believed that wolves were the embodiment of evil - endangering human life and well being, killing livestock, and depleting game animals. The government placed bounties on the wolf, encouraging hunting, trapping, and poisoning. The few California wolves that survived were trailed by bounty hunters for months until they were captured and killed.

Strychnine was the poison of choice set out for wolves. Meat laced with this deadly toxin inevitably attracted other animals as well, creating great losses of coyotes, foxes, skunks, and birds such as hawks, eagles, and ravens. It was not a humane way of killing, strychnine causes convulsions that prevent respiration, so the animal dies of suffocation.

The loss of the wolf in California, an important top predator, resulted in a weakened ecosystem. Wolves prey on sick, injured, old or young animals, which is helpful in keeping populations healthy and stable. Deer and rabbits have consequently increased in number due to lack of predation. An excessive deer population can overuse plant species and destroy the plant base. This makes the habitat less fit for other animals.

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...ten million dollars in spending from visitors since wolves were reintroduced to the park. California's tourism would likely benefit as well. Although people may be afraid of wolf attacks, they are actually very rare. In fact, there has never been a documented death due to wolves in all of North America.

Whether wolf recovery efforts extend to California or not, the wolf lives on in native myth, language, and ceremony. Our historical documents will continue to prove that California was once home to the Gray Wolf. We know that Charles Frémont, who traveled through the San Joaquin Valley in 1844 wrote in his journal, "We saw wolves frequently during the day, prowling about after the young antelope, which cannot run very fast" (Defenders 36). For now, the wolf will be listed among the species no longer found in California - right next to the Grizzly Bear.

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