Long Journey

at 11:35 PM

"The wolf's in California," my sister's text proclaimed, followed by an exclamation mark that for me was unnecessary.  I needed no symbols to heighten the excitement I felt knowing that after an absence of almost 90 years, a wolf once again roamed our state.

I have always loved wolves. As a child, even the big bad wolf of Red Riding Hood fame didn't deter me. It was something about their wildness, which combined with their beauty and intelligence, puts them firmly in the category of what biologists call charismatic mega-fauna. I have visited Yellowstone many times and can say that a wolf howling across the mountains at dawn is about as charismatic as anything can get.

Our wolf hails from northeast Oregon, the son of the first wolves that disbursed there from Idaho, descendents of the original wolves transplanted from Canada to the Northern Rockies in the 1990s. Dubbed "Journey" by a child in a naming contest, this wolf meandered more than 800 miles seeking new turf. He had crossed at least two highways and many other obstacles before stepping across the California line and setting off a firestorm.

It is true that a few wolves have killed cattle in Oregon, and programs should be in place to compensate ranchers for this loss. But one politician proclaimed that residents would now have to carry guns when they go out for the mail. Really? According to my research, only two North Americans have been killed by wolves in the last 100 years. Compare that to the approximately 20 Americans killed by cows each year, or the 15,000 people killed by fellow humans. The image of the slathering wolf works only in fairy tales.

Journey will probably not find new turf in California if turf is defined as finding a mate. But his presence seems a good sign, one that tells us perhaps the environment isn't as damaged as we think. Journey may not carry on, but others will likely follow. Many biologists say it's only a matter of time before wolves are once again firmly established in California. I, for one, welcome them.

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With a Perspective, this is Carol Arnold.

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Carol Arnold is an environmental planner and writer living in San Francisco.

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