• An endangered gray wolf was found dead in California
  • Authorities are still investigating if the death was natural, accidental or intentional
  • Wolf OR-54 was one of the small number of wolves in California
  • They are protected by state and federal law

California wildlife agency officials announced that an endangered wolf, OR-54, was found dead in Shasta County on Feb. 6. The wolf’s cause of death is, so far, unknown. But, authorities stated that an investigation is already underway to determine why wolf OR-54 died. If it is found that OR-54 was killed, the one responsible could be facing serious penalties including jail time and fines.

“Her death is devastating, no matter the cause,” West Coast wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, Amaroq Weiss, said. “We hope OR-54 died a natural death and wasn't killed illegally.”

The nearly 4-year-old OR-54 moved from Oregon to California about two years ago and has spent her time in the state moving across different counties. During her time in California, it is estimated that she traveled a total of 8,712 miles.

This is terrible news for wolf recovery in California, especially since it was only in late 2018 when another wolf was illegally killed and in 2015 when a pack of wolves suddenly disappeared from Siskiyou County just months after they were discovered. The wolves in that pack, as it happens, were implicated in livestock casualties.

In the early 1900s, California wolves were wiped out due to the government-sponsored efforts to eradicate them in favor of the livestock industry. By the 2000s, wolves began returning to Oregon and Washington and, in 2011, a wolf from Oregon moved to California and became the first confirmed wolf in the state after almost 90 years.

Other wolves have since moved to California including OR-7, a wolf that was born in Oregon and, as it happens, the father of OR-54.

Unfortunately, the wolves’ relationship with farmers has not changed much, as their return in the state has riled ranchers and livestock owners. In fact, OR-54 herself had been suspected of killing several calves in Plumas County in 2019.

Some ranchers, however, have adopted solutions to minimize conflicts between them and the wolves including the use of non-lethal deterrents, purchasing guard dogs and deploying devices that can scare wolves away. This way, the main threats to the wolf population, conflict with humans and loss of habitat, are minimized and both livestock and the wolves are protected.

Today, less than a dozen known wolves are living in California. They are protected as endangered species both under state and federal law.

Wolf OR-54
This image of wolf OR-54 was taken when she was just 1.5 years old. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Center For Biological Diversity