GIANT SEQUOIA NATIONAL MONUMENT, Calif. — On the morning of July 6, Michelle Harris saw a huge canid with yellow eyes dash across a fire road lined with charred snags and giant sequoias blackened by recent wildfires.
The animal “paused, started to pace and made clipped barking sounds — like it was very worried about something,” recalled Harris, a biologist who was working on a restoration project in the area. “Then it tilted its head back and let out a really decent howl.”
“All I could think was, ‘It doesn’t look like a coyote, but it has to be, right?’ ”
Animal tracks and DNA analysis of scat and hair samples determined it was an adult female gray wolf, the leader of a previously undetected pack settling into Giant Sequoia National Monument — a region of the Southern Sierra Nevada that hasn’t felt a wolf’s paw in more than a century.
Now, biologists are cautiously optimistic that California’s southernmost wolf pack, which includes the female’s four offspring — two males and two females — will adapt to its new environs some 130 miles north of Los Angeles.
Yet the sudden appearance of the so-called Tulare Pack is already generating friction among Central Valley livestock owners and the managers of ambitious fuel reduction projects underway in and around areas of Sequoia National Forest and Giant Sequoia National Monument scorched by recent wildfires.
In a recent letter, a group of environmentalists urged the U.S. Forest Service to suspend post-fire logging operations in the region until it can “determine whether any activities associated with those and other projects could adversely affect the wolves.”
That’s because the environmental reviews for the projects have not considered the impacts of hand crews with chainsaws, bulldozers and trucks on endangered gray wolves and wolf habitat.
Environmentalists say their presence is vital to restoring the rhythms of life among countless other animal and plant species that evolved with them.
“Wolves rewild the landscape and that’s good not just for the wolves but for entire ecosystems,” said Amaroq Weiss, senior wolf advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity.
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