El Niño Weather and Wolves

January 29, 2016
Gray Wolf

For the first time in 91 years, wild wolves are in California.

Scientists told people to expect many things from El Niño — rain, snow, floods, and landslides. Who knew it would also bring a pack of wolves?

They’re ba-a-a-ck! Source: Wikipedia

Wolves were nearly exterminated until there were only 300 left, hiding in northern Minnesota and Michigan, when they were listed by the Endangered Species Act in 1974.

Since then they have been slowly spreading. In 1994, the government finally decided “Go West, young wolf” and introduced some Canadian wolves into Idaho and Yellowstone Park. Since then they have spread to thirteen states, including Oregon. California was waiting with bated breath for wolves to discover the joys of living in the Golden State.

In 2011, they got their hopes up. A male wolf, identified as OR-7, wandered across the border. After retreating back to Oregon and then coming back to California, he broke hearts by settling back in Oregon and was seen last year, with a mate and 3 cubs.

El Niño has brought drought and reduced game in Oregon.

Then came El Niño. There have been El Niño conditions since last October and it has brought drought from California north throughout the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada. The happy hunting grounds of Oregon and Washington have gotten a lot drier. Wildfires are raging through the forests. Game animals are decreasing.

It was time to move. Early this year, there were signs that a wolf was once again checking out California. (Some scientists were thrilled at finding wolf poop!) A few pictures caught traces of a wandering wolf. Excitedly the California Department of Fish and Wildlife posted cameras to get a better glimpse.

In August they were stunned to find not a solitary wanderer, but a mated pair with five healthy four-month-old pups. The scientists suspect the couple settled because the nearby glacier on Mt. Shasta provides ample water. (Wild wolves first settled by glaciers in Washington, Oregon and Montana, so this fits the pattern.) While most of California is parched, the glacier region is rich with game, especially if you are the only pack in the state.

California’s Mt. Shasta has been a happy hunting ground. Source: Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife

It is an odd gift from El Niño, but after waiting 90 years, California is happy to have wolves again.

About This Blog

The column, “Weather Whispers,” is authored by James Garriss and Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologists and weather addicts!  Whether you enjoy the science of weather or the fascinating folklore or just fun weather phenomena, it’s probably covered by these weather watchers!

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