A rare male gray wolf, named OR-93 by scientists for his origins with an Oregon pack, may now be in Ventura County after passing through Calaveras and Tuolumne counties earlier this year, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said last week.

Ventura County is the farthest south in California any gray wolf has been documented since one was captured in San Bernardino County in 1922. Historically, all of the state was wolf habitat.

Between Sept. 20 and 26, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife received three separate reports of a gray wolf with a purple collar in northern Ventura County. Fish and Wildlife staff did site inspections and confirmed recent wolf tracks in the vicinity.

The department emphasized it has no forensic evidence to confirm the wolf’s identity. Nevertheless, reports of the wolf in Ventura County match descriptions of OR-93, which was fitted with a purple tracking collar by scientists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs in Oregon in June 2020.

The collar was being monitored by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, but it stopped transmitting in April.

Wildlife authorities said OR-93’s visit to Tuolumne County in February was the first recorded observance of a collared gray wolf so far south in the Sierra Nevada. 

Kelle Schroeder, the Tuolumne County agricultural commissioner, reminded people at the time of OR-93’s visit that gray wolves are a protected species in the Golden State.

“We would like to remind everyone that gray wolves are covered under the Endangered Species Act in California,” Schroeder said in March. “It is unlawful to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, or capture gray wolves.”

The first gray wolves in California in 80 years were spotted and tracked coming from Oregon into California in 2011, according to advocates with the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity.

In 2014, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife added gray wolves to the state's endangered species list. Gray wolves currently remain on a state endangered species list. They were removed from federal endangered species lists in January.

OR-93 is a male wolf born in 2019. He came from the White River pack in northern Oregon.

When Europeans began arriving in the western hemisphere, there were an estimated 2 million wolves in North America, including about 380,000 wolves in what became the western United States, scientists say.

Pioneers, settlers and cattlemen feared the predators. Gray wolves were nearly wiped out in California by the mid-1920s and all but exterminated in 48 states by the 1930s.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.net or 770-0405. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.