A wolf roams the Central Coast of California, the first in almost two hundred years. Born three years ago near Oregon’s Mount Hood to the White River Pack, the young male left his family, as young wolves do, to look for a mate, heading south into California, passing through Modoc County, Mono County; Tuolumne, Mariposa, and Madera Counties; Fresno County, San Benito County, Monterey County; and now San Luis Obispo County. The gray wolf — traveling roughly sixteen miles a day, at a trot of roughly five miles per hour — has journeyed through Northern California lava beds, over snowy Sierra Nevada passes, near Yosemite, and across three major freeways, and now roams the mountains above San Luis Obispo. The wolf has traveled a thousand miles in two months. A director of a wolf-advocacy group said his arrival here is “something akin to the [first] moonwalk.” The last such wolf spotted on the Central Coast was in Monterey County — in 1826. For thousands of years the Chumash have called this once-abundant creature miy. We have dubbed this particular miy “OR-93.”
In response to OR-93’s arrival, a man on the Internet comments: “These are not pets. With the overpopulation of mountain lion and bear, the last thing you need is another predator. All this leads to less prey and an eventual loss of cattle and domestic animals. When decisions are made by those without practical knowledge, we take steps rearward. If you want to know what steps to take in regard to wild animal populations, ask a hunter, not a college kid in the city. I’ve witnessed the wolf carnage in other states already. California continues to make poor decisions.”
There are four to six thousand mountain lions in California, thirty to forty thousand black bears, and zero grizzlies (even though the latter is our official state animal). There are just twenty wolves in California and more than 39 million human beings. Once numbering in the millions, six thousand wolves survive in the Lower Forty-Eight.
A photo in our local newspaper shows yellow, black-pupiled eyes, a tawny coat mingled with dark grays, and a strong, lanky body. In the photo OR-93 sits on pine needles among clover and dandelions, a purple tracking collar around his neck. You can follow his journey on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) website. The most recent update is terse:
April 6, 2021
As of the last collar reading, OR-93 crossed U.S. Route 101 and is in San Luis Obispo County.
The terseness of the update is apparently intentional — that way folks are less likely to find OR-93 and kill him.
Says the spokesperson for another wolf-advocacy group, “If you’re out hiking with your dog . . . it may be safer to keep it on a leash. That’s because a wolf may see the dog as a threat to its territory.”
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife says that, like all wild animals, wolves (which they call “charismatic megafauna”) should never be fed or approached. Should you have a close encounter with a wolf — which is so rare as to be hardly possible — the CDFW urges the following:
- Don’t run, but act aggressively, stepping toward the wolf and yelling or clapping your hands if it tries to approach.
- Do not turn your back toward an aggressive wolf, but continue to stare directly at it. If you are with a companion and more than one wolf is present, place yourselves back-to-back and slowly move away from the wolves.
- Retreat slowly while facing the wolf and act aggressively.
- Stand your ground if a wolf attacks you and fight with any means possible (use sticks, rocks, ski poles, fishing rods, or whatever you can find).
- Use air horns or other noisemakers.
- Use bear spray or firearms if necessary.
- Climb a tree if necessary; wolves cannot climb trees.
OR-93, forgive us. We know not what we do. The wary-hearted know not; the well-intentioned know not; and I, the bewildered, know not. As you roam the Central Coast of California looking for a mate, as you take down a shuddering hare or young deer, as you plunder a plastic bag along the freeway at night (chicken wings, shit-filled diapers, clammy banana peels, melted pint of 7-Eleven Double Cookie Dough ice cream, empty can of Monster Assault); as you nap under a tractor or eat cold thimbleberries dipping on their vines into a creek; as you roll on your back in pine needles to itch your right shoulder; as you sniff for a track of scent; as you follow your long, tawny snout south, running the wrong way, farther and farther away from any possible track, the track of a possible mate, lost here without a track, no track, none; as you drink water erupting from the earth on a green hill above a fire-desolated double-wide (water that makes, on the hill below you, a lacework of little white streams); as you wake to six Canada geese’s frost-edged cronks in a lavender dawn; as you run through a meadow of lupine, your limbs unlatching the pods and sowing the agatey seeds; as you bark at two dragonflies hovering above a stock tank; as you slope across a Best Buy parking lot, all loping, shifty-eyed stealth; as you scatter into a cowering gallop when some teenagers scream at you from a van; as you scare away a hawk from the wispy wreckage of a mourning dove, then eat the bloodied body, its feathers, pink meat, and neat bones; as you approach bees boiling from an oak snag; as you sleep in grasses under an Orion-ceilinged night, dreaming again of burning nests falling from trees, that mother robin, reluctant to leave her clutch, wresting herself from the plummeting flames at the last moment and flying away; as you smell the Pacific Ocean for the first time, the salt of it, the sweet fishiness, the curious tar — may your glory be as a hot brand upon us, the perfectly asleep, seared awake from this edgeless dream.