There are no wolves to speak of in San Bernardino County or Southern California at present, outside of venues of strict captivity such as zoos. Indeed, they had been very rare or non-existent in California for some time, although in recent years they are making something of a comeback in the northern part of the state.
That is not to say they have never been among San Bernardino County’s fauna. S.P. Young and E.A. Goldman, in their 1944 tome The Wolves of North America, Their History, Life Habits, Economic Status, and Control, note there were a number of credible 19th Century written records of what were referred to as wolf sightings in California, which can be interpreted as evidence of such occurrences in the Golden State, including its southern half. Young and Goldman differ somewhat from the assessment of J. Grinnell, S. Dixon and M. Linsdale, who in their 1937 Fur-Bearing Animals of California offering for the University of California Publications in Zoology held that “Unquestionably wolves ranged regularly over the northeastern one-fourth of the state and south along the Sierra Nevada to Inyo County at least” and that it “is not unlikely” wolves roamed to the coast of northwest California, while asserting there is no credible evidence placing wolves “one hundred years ago in west central California or southern California west of the desert divides.”
Grinnell, Dixon and Linsdale report that on December 14, 1922, in eastern San Bernardino County near the old Barnett Mine 12 miles west of Lanfair in the Providence Mountains of the Mojave Desert, a fellow by the name of Watson trapped an adult male Southern Rocky Mountains wolf, C. I. youngi. The wolf was kept alive briefly and photographed. Its body has been preserved and can be viewed at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley. Goldman in 1944 indicated his belief that particular wolf wandered into California from Nevada. Another wolf, an adult male Cascades Mountains wolf, C. I. fuscus, with three legs that was near starvation was taken alive by a trapper employed by the government, Frank W. Kaehler, on June 13, 1924 in Lassen County, one mile east of Litchfield. Grinnell, Dixon and Linsdale theorized that wolf made its way into California from either Oregon or northern Nevada.
For nearly four decades, those two were the last wolves documented as being in California.
On March 22, 1962 in a chicken yard at Woodlake near the boundary of Sequoia National Park in Tulare County, a wolf was shot. Some believe that specimen may have been an indication that that wolves yet inhabited remote areas of the southern Sierra Nevada. Others are less sure, and suggested that wolf might have been one that escaped from a human who had it as a pet.
According to Young, “The occurrence of the wolf in most of California has been rare.”
Throughout the 19th Century, wolves, like bears, were extirpated by Americans, who feared them for their ferocity and willingness to prey upon livestock.
It can be said with certainty that California’s wolf population dwindled precipitously in the mid-1800s, as there was a concerted effort to eradicate them in all areas inhabited by man. They were yet being killed and trapped, in ever smaller numbers in the late 1800s and the first decade of the 1900s. It is believed that California’s indigenous population of wolves was essentially extinct by 1890 and that those trapped or killed in California thereafter were unfortunate stragglers from Oregon and Nevada.
Until recently, the physical record of their presence in California ended with the three wolves earlier alluded to which were found in Lassen County and just west of the Providence Mountains in the early 1920s and the one shot in Tulare County.
There had been some questionable and unverified sightings, however, off and on since then, and some signs of the creatures, such as tracks. Biologists are not convinced of the validity of those, and they have indicated that what people have taken for wolves in nearly all of those cases were actually either large coyotes, wolf-dog hybrids or perhaps captive-bred wolves that escaped or were released.
Biologists further believe that many, though not all, of the historical accounts of wolves abounding in California by explorers and even trappers, as well as miners, pioneers and early settlers trappers were actually sightings of coyotes, which in much of their aspect, aside from their smaller size, resemble wolves.
In the last decade, gray wolves have been returning in minute, yet increasing numbers, to California. Those wolves are gradually moving further south. They are migrating back to the Golden State because, unlike a century to a century-and-a-half ago, there is not a premium on their slaughter. Rather, they are considered endangered, and killing them is an offense.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is monitoring the recovery of the endangered species.
Roughly a decade ago, a male gray wolf from Oregon wandered into California. It is believed that since that time, as many as three dozen others have crossed into California, either from Oregon or Nevada.
Over the last two decades, as many as 100 or more wolves have come back to California in the northern Sierra.
Oregon state biologists have been relatively aggressive in tranquilizing wolves in the southern portion of that state – 54 to date to be precise – and outfitting the slumbering creatures with GPS transmitters by which they monitor their whereabouts and migratory patterns after they shake off the effects of the narcotic. As many as a dozen of those wolves have crossed over into California for at least a short period of time. Some have headed even further southward, progressing all the way through Siskiyou and Modoc counties, which are contiguous to Oregon’s south border, as far as Lassen County.
Two years ago, a female with which the male wolf that crossed into California in 2010 mated gave birth to a female. The male had been collared with a transponder and is known as OR-7. His daughter, likewise collared and being traced electronically, is designated OR-54. She has inherited her father’s wanderlust and has moved further southward. Whereas over the previous five years, no wolves had been detected to have gone any further south than Lassen County, OR-54 made it through Lassen County, into Plumas County, beyond Sierra County and all the way to Nevada County. She has not yet ventured to Placer County, the next southlying county in the Sierra Madre. South of Placer County is El Dorado County, which borders upon Alpine County. Alpine County presses up against Mono County, which is but a 250 mile hope, skip and a jump to San Bernardino County’s northern border.
Six wolves with radio collars are currently being tracked in Plumas or Lassen counties. At least two litters of wolf pups have been born in Lassen County.
Mr. Gutglueck heavily relied upon The Former Distribution of Grey Wolves In California by Ronald M. Jurek, as well as postings on the websites of both the California Department of Fish & Wildlife and the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, together with a telephonic exchange with Michelle Dennehy of the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife in putting this narrative together.