Wednesday, February 29, 2012

California wolf trek shows importance of wilderness

Heart Lake
Heart Lake Inventoried Roadless Area in northern California's Shasta County has been recommended by the U.S. Forest Service as a potential wilderness area. California's lone wolf, OR7, passed through this area last week, proving its suitability as a wildlife habitat and demonstrating the need for connected wilderness corridors all across the continent. (Gordon Johnson)

The incredible ramble of California’s only wolf shows more than determination, as OR7 has trotted more than 1,000 miles to look for a mate and a new home. It also demonstrates the necessity of wilderness areas that serve as safe corridors for migrating wildlife.

As OR7 -- also known as Journey -- wandered southward from his original home with the Imnaha pack in Northeast Oregon, he has used his own wolf smarts to find the wildest territory to allow him passage far from humans. That has taken him on a trek through many areas long identified by scientists and citizens alike as wilderness worth preserving as parks and and so-called “green corridors” for wildlife. The wolf, being tracked via a radio collar, has proved those corridors actually work, and has given them his stamp of approval.

“If you look at the map of where Journey has gone, he’s really hit some of the best wild places,” says Laurel Williams, deputy conservation director for Southern California at the California Wilderness Coalition. “And many of them are not yet protected, formally, as wilderness. It just really speaks to how important these places are for such an amazing creature and that we should be working to protect them.”

In a release distributed by the Coalition on Tuesday, a map of OR7’s trek through Oregon and California shows the wolf spending days in the incredible Eagle Cap Wilderness, then winding south through areas that have been identified as proposed wilderness areas but do not yet have official designation, including the proposed Hidden Springs and Crater Lake wilderness areas in Oregon and the proposed Captain Jack, Ahjumawi, and McDonald Peak wilderness areas in California.

Some national groups, most notably the Rewilding Institute, have mapped and proposed continent-wide corridor planning for years. However, corridors often remain somewhat abstract until a creature like OR7 comes along to show how they’re all strung together.

Williams points out that many wilderness areas in California were identified in 2001 during her group's Citizens Wilderness Inventory. During that process, local wilderness advocates and people who care about the big wild joined with the coalition to help identify and map large chunks of national forest, lands managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management and other habitat that would be best preserved as wilderness.
“We haven’t had wolves in California for such a long time. This is a unique opportunity to see on the ground what’s important. We don’t have active legislation for these places right now. We’re just hoping someone will step up and bring these places into protection,” Williams added.