OR-93, an Oregon gray wolf.
OR-93, an Oregon gray wolf tracked by GPS collar into California, is seen in a June 2020 photograph taken when he was first radio-collared in Oregon. According to the latest collar reading, OR-93 is in San Luis Obispo County. (Austin Smith / Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs photo)

In a historic journey, a lone gray wolf from Oregon has traveled into San Luis Obispo County in search of a new mate or new pack, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

It’s likely the first time in nearly 200 years that a gray wolf, which is an endangered species protected under state law, has been known to be in the Central Coast region.

OR-93, named by the Oregon biologists who trapped and fitted him with a GPS collar in June, has journeyed nearly 1,000 miles from the Mount Hood region in Oregon where he was born.

“As of the last collar reading, OR-93 crossed U.S. Route 101 and is in San Luis Obispo County,” the CDFW posted Tuesday on its gray wolf updates website.

The wild animal’s appearance poses some concerns from wildlife advocates.

Amaroq Weiss, senior West Coast wolf advocate for the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, said she’s “awestruck” that OR-93 has traveled to San Luis Obispo County.

She’s also a little worried because it is “extremely, extremely unlikely” that he will find a mate here, she said.

“I would be just gobsmacked to think that there might be any other wolves that are out there” in San Luis Obispo County, Weiss said. “His best hope for finding a mate is if he can safely backtrack and get back over to the eastern side of the state.”

Weiss noted that San Luis Obispo County is more heavily populated than the Northern California counties where there are more gray wolves. So, the likelihood of OR-93 getting hit by a car or shot by someone is perhaps higher on the Central Coast than in other parts of the state, she said.

“Wolves are fully protected in California under the California Endangered Species Act. It’s illegal to kill a wolf,” Weiss said. “My big hope is that people know that there’s a wolf in their area and know that it’s not a coyote.”

Endangered Gray Wolf Travels From Oregon to California

OR-93’s winding journey through California has been tracked closely by Fish and Wildlife biologists.

The gray wolf crossed the Oregon border into Modoc County in early February, then trekked through Mono County. It also traveled through parts of Tuolumne, Mariposa, Merced and Madera counties.

In late February, OR-93 turned up in Fresno County and has since turned west, crossing into San Benito County on March 27, then into Monterey County on April 1 and San Luis Obispo County on Tuesday.

It’s not uncommon for wolves to travel extreme lengths to find a mate or pack to settle down with, but in the past, wolves have found mates farther north and not needed to travel so far south, Weiss said.

OR-93 is one of 16 gray wolves to have traveled into California since 2011, when OR-7 became the first known wolf to venture into the state in nearly a century. Most of those have settled down in remote, northeastern California.

The last time a wolf was spotted on the Central Coast may have been in 1826, according to a CDFW report published in 2012, and that sighting was in Monterey County, not San Luis Obispo County.

Gray wolves used to be abundant in California, but settlers killed off most of them, Weiss said.

The gray wolf population is now slowly recovering, aided by the careful research and protection by the state government and biologists.

“This is just an incredible thing to have a species that we tried to wipe from the face of the world coming back into our state,” Weiss said.

Jordan Traverso, a spokesperson for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, told The Tribune in an email that it is “a great ecological story that wolves have returned to their historic habitat.”

“We always believed they would come back; it was a matter of when, not if. But we also always knew it would be met with mixed emotion,” Traverso wrote. “On one hand, gray wolves are an iconic species, important to our tribes and state folklore, and Californians are very passionate about them. They are charismatic megafauna in California.

“On the other hand … the landscape has changed. Much of their historic habitat is used for large-scale livestock production, and the return of wolves represents an additional apex predator that producers have to contend with.”

What to Do If You Encounter a Wolf

According to Weiss, wolves “don’t want anything to do with humans,” so it’s incredibly unlikely that you’ll see OR-93.

If you’re out hiking with your dog, however, it may be safer to keep it on a leash, she said. That’s because a wolf may see the dog as a threat to its territory.

The CDFW says that wolves, like all wild animals, should never be fed or approached.

Should you have a close encounter with a wolf, which is exceedingly rare, the CDFW advises the following:

» Do not run. Maintain eye contact.

» Act aggressively. Make noise while retreating slowly.

» If the wolf does not retreat, continue acting aggressively by yelling or throwing objects.

It’s also uncommon for wolves to attack and feed on livestock, according to the CDFW.

The CDFW has several recommendations for how to discourage livestock depredation by wolves, which involves making your property less attractive to wolves:

» Remove diseased or dying animals from areas where they can attract wolves. Do not leave these animals out in the open.

» Dispose of carcasses in properly constructed and maintained carcass pits.

» Carcass pits should be routinely burned or covered with dirt.

» Carcass pits should be at least 8 feet deep and located away from livestock, homes, outbuildings, etc.

» Surround carcass pits with predator-resistant fencing can further reduce the chances of attracting wolves.

» Haul away carcasses to a rendering facility or commercial landfill.

» Fence or pen livestock at night using permanent or portable fencing.

The agency also suggests using a fladry line, a series of cloth flags hung at intervals along a rope or fence line. Wolves can be reluctant to cross fladry lines for 30 to 60 days, the CDFW said.

In addition, the CDFW says landowners can install flashing lights, triggered by motion sensors, around the perimeter of sensitive areas such as calving areas. Lights should be moved regularly to increase effectiveness.

Livestock owners should use multiple dogs to guard livestock, the agency said.

“In most situations, livestock guarding dogs can be effective at alerting people to the presence of wolves but not in actually keeping wolves away,” the CDFW said, adding that the “effectiveness of livestock guarding dogs is dependent on breeding and training.”

“Dogs may be seen as competition by wolves,” the agency said. “Dogs should not be allowed to chase or attack wolves as this may result in the injury to or death of the dog. Do not allow dogs near active wolf den sites.”

— Mackenzie Shuman is a reporter for The San Luis Obispo Tribune.