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Newly identified pack of endangered gray wolves roams California’s Sierra Nevada


By Lauren Mascarenhas, CNN

(CNN) — A newly identified pack of endangered gray wolves is roaming in California’s Sierra Nevada, at least 200 miles away from the nearest known pack, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Friday.

The pack was spotted in the Sequoia National Forest in Tulare County, where wildlife technicians found tracks and collected scat and hair samples for genetic testing. It is the southernmost point in the state where a pack has been identified.

Researchers identified at least five members of the pack, two females, two males and their mother, a direct descendant of California’s first documented wolf in the state in recent history, known as OR7.

Before OR7 crossed state lines from Oregon to California in late 2011, nearly a century had passed without a wolf making California part of its range. Though gray wolves are native to California, there were essentially none left in the state by the 1920s.

OR7 spent most of 2012 in California before returning to Oregon in March 2013, where he likely found a mate in the Cascade Mountains and formed what is now known as the Rogue Pack, according to Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Gray wolves in California are considered a recovering endangered species under state and federal law, and it is illegal to kill them, but wolves remain unprotected across much of the Northern Rockies, after decades of back-and-forth lawsuits over state and federal regulations.

Researchers have advocated for an expansion of protected lands for gray wolves, arguing they are a keystone species, important to the overall health of the ecosystem.

The newly discovered pack joins just three known gray wolf packs living in Northern California, the Whaleback Pack, the Lassen Pack and the Beckwourth Pack, according to wildlife officials.

Though they did not find evidence of an adult male with the new pack, officials say the breeding male was a descendant of the Lassen Pack, which ranges in California’s Lassen and Plumas Counties.

When California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife reported seeing new wolves in May, wolf advocates celebrated.

“It brings me great joy to see California’s wolves continue to increase in number, aided by the strong state and federal protections here,” Amaroq Weiss, senior wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement at the time. “Wolves rewild the landscape and that’s good not just for the wolves but for entire ecosystems.”

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CNN’s Emma Tucker and Hannah Sarisohn contributed to this report.

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