California is home to a new pack of wolves

Department of Fish and Wildlife add the Beckwourth Pack to their list of 'California's Known Wolves'

A Lassen pack pup - photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service

Since 2017, the Lassen pack of wolves, as they’re known, has been the only documented pack of wolves in California until last Friday when the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) updated their known wolves document and added the Beckwourth pack.

“According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, field efforts are ongoing. And it’s not yet known whether the pack has reproduced this year,” said Pamela Flick, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife. “But they did some preliminary DNA analysis, and at least one of the wolves is a Lassen pack pup from 2019. And it’s a female.

“The origin of the other two wolves remains uncertain,” Flick continued. “So that could mean that the Department wasn’t able to make a genetic match on those other two, or it could be that they got enough DNA but cannot connect those wolves with any known wolves in California, Oregon, or other parts of the west where they have DNA on record.”

Approximate area of gray wolf activity as of March 2021. The red dot marks the town of Beckwourth – image: California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Flick and others have suspected the presence of this new pack since late May of this year following what was found to be a wolf attack on an adult cow in eastern Plumas County. CDFW identified the presence of three wolves at the carcass of the killed livestock, which could be a sign of a new, distinct pack.

“In California, we have not had two or more concurrent wolf packs,” Flick explained. “In 2015, our first contemporary pack, the Shasta pack, was up in Siskiyou County and was reproductive. They produced at least five pups in 2015.”

But that pack, according to Flick, was accused of attacking livestock in November of 2015 and has never resurfaced. Flick said that only one member of that pack has since been confirmed, and that male wolf was videotaped by someone in northwest Nevada back in November 2016. The Nevada’s Department of Wildlife retrieved a scat sample and did DNA analysis that confirmed that the wolf was one of the juvenile pups of the Shasta pack.

The Shasta pack on November 4, 2015 – photo: California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Flick concedes that there are likely other wolves in the state that have yet to be documented, but of the wolves that are known, populations are slowly growing and there is potential that genetic diversity continues to deepen, a critical factor for wolf population sustainability.

“Knowing that one of the Lassen pack’s 2019 litter pups is part of the Beckwourth pack, it indicates to me that the Lassen Pack is finally at the size where it may be starting to split apart, and some of those animals are dispersing.

“In fact, we know that one of the males that was collared in the Lassen pack, I believe it was last year, that he actually dispersed up to Oregon. It was just kind of unfortunate because California Department of Fish and Wildlife hasn’t collared all that many wolves here in California, so to have one of our collared wolves take off and head north and no longer be in the state is a little bit of a bummer,” Flick said with a chuckle.

CDFW has also announced what they are calling the “Whaleback pair” of wolves. They are in an area of eastern Siskiyou County that overlaps the old Shasta pack territory.

“If we find out that the Whaleback pair has reproduced this year and the Lassen pack has reproduced again this year, even if the Beckwourth pack hasn’t reproduced, that’s still important because that would be the first time we have two reproductive wolf packs in California in modern times.”