FRESNO COUNTY, California. (KGPE) – “That would be a nice cherry on top if I were to see some wildlife today.”
“I don’t want to see a bear. I don’t need to see any kind of coyotes. I’m good on that.”
Two visitors in Yosemite National Park have two very different ideas of a great visit.
Andrea Dye, who is stopping through on her move to Bend, Oregon, prefers big waterfalls over big wildlife. “I’m hoping to see some waterfalls and these lovely cliffs, and then I’m hoping to catch the sunset by the tunnel.”
Ezra Brettler, on the other hand, wouldn’t mind a respectful wildlife sighting during one of his many visits to Yosemite. “For me, it’s a very exciting thing. Of course, it’s important to kind of keep your distance and stay safe, and make sure that they’re not getting too acclimated to being around people.”
Jaime Richards, a park ranger in Yosemite, can provide visitors like Andrea with some reassurance:
“Yosemite National Park does not have any wolves.”
To find out if there was any merit to the wolf reports, I spoke with wolf biologist Kent Laudon. He confirmed so-called OR-93 did break away from a pack in Oregon, and his satellite collar shows he’s had an interesting journey through California.
“He just had a very strong southerly trajectory, which is a little bit different. Usually they’ll kind of go south for a while, then east, then west, then south, and then north, and you know, all over the place.”
He crossed the Sierra several miles north of Yosemite National Park. What surprised me the most was when Laudon described the wolf’s journey down the middle of the San Joaquin Valley, “I hear Highway 99 is a big deal for a wolf to cross.”
Laudon says his track this far south is abnormal, but the act of breaking off from his pack is normal. Experts think they do that to breed and start their own pack, and that’s how the population disperses and grows.
He says the likelihood that there’s another wolf in San Luis Obispo County for OR-93 is really low. The known wolf pack in the state is the Lassen Pack, which is up north in Lassen and Plumas counties.
Wolves move on their own, so there are no plans to reintroduce them. However, there have been several species that have been successfully reintroduced, and they’re helping to balance the ecosystem here in Yosemite National Park.
Richards explains each species is evaluated. “What we’re looking at is can the ecosystem as it currently exists, can it support the life that was once here? And, will bringing that species back continue to bring balance, or could it cause some other challenges and problems?”
Among the native species that have returned are the Sierra Nevada Bighorn sheep, western pond turtle, and especially the red-legged frog.
Richards says the programs are successful. “The frogs are thriving so it’s wonderful to take a walk across the meadow and to hear the sounds of a native frog.”
Visitors like Ezra are appreciative of the efforts. “Seeing that diversity of wildlife and seeing a lot of diverse plants is of course a huge plus.”
Just make sure you give wildlife plenty of space to keep them wild.
Richards has a tip for keeping your distance. “For large animals, particularly large predators, we recommend the rule of thumb. So if you take your thumb and you hold your thumb up to the animal, if the animal is larger than your thumb you are too close.”
If you do come across a wild dog in Yosemite, it’s more than likely a coyote. If you are near the Lassen Pack, rest assured, wolves typically don’t threaten humans.
“The things that we worry the most about that do happen unfortunately of course is attacking livestock, and other dogs,” says Laudon.
As for OR-93, the story may end here, as there hasn’t been a location ping since April 5th. If you’re like Andrea and still wary of wildlife, she shared her own tactic.
“Anytime I see, or I saw like lizards and stuff on my hike the other day, I just call them Bud, and then that like de-escalates my anxiety and I can like, keep moving forward,” explained Andrea.