A gray wolf pack of two adults and five pups has been spotted in Northern California — the first confirmed pack of the region in almost a century, delighted wildlife officials have announced.
Motion-activated cameras set along trials in Siskiyou County captured images of the group, which has been dubbed the Shasta Pack, after the nearby Mount Shasta.
A lone male wolf previously spotted wandering the area in the springtime apparently had quick success in finding a mate and starting a family, according to Eric Loft, chief of the wildlife branch for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The pups are estimated to be a few months old.
Loft said they were "really excited if not amazed" at how quickly the wolves have recolonized the region.
Gray wolves have been considered extinct in the state since 1924. Wolves reintroduced to the Northern Rockies around 20 years ago have since migrated into Washington and Oregon, where federal and state endangered species acts offer protection for the animals.
Expecting that the wolves might eventually make their way into California, last year, the California Fish and Game Commission declared them an endangered species in anticipation. This means that under the California Endangered Species Act, the Shasta pack is already protected.
"This news is exciting for California," said Director Charlton H. Bonham of the Fish and Wildlife Department. "We knew wolves would eventually return home to the state and it appears now is the time."
The department says it is completing a Draft Wolf Management Plan and will release it soon.
Before the last gray wolf was killed in 1924, they were fairly common in the state, although department officials say there are no accurate estimates on the numbers that once inhabited California.
California officials say they've not yet decided whether to fit the animals of the Shasta pack with collars for tracking purposes, as is done in Oregon, but suggest that they may do so with at least one of the adults.
Experts predict that the pack is likely to be around for a while, explaining that wolves tend to stay in one area once they begin to breed.
The future looks bright for the gray wolf in California, according to the department's Karen Kovacs.
"These animals have a tremendous ability to reoccupy former range (and) their reproductive potential is quite high," she said. "These are very resilient critters."