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California wildlife officials give protected status to gray wolf

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The gray wolf -- a predator once nearly driven to extinction -- has been given special protection by California wildlife officials.

The California Fish & Game Commission voted 3-1 Wednesday in favor of listing the gray wolf as a protected species.

The vote on providing protected status to the wolf comes after a coalition of environmental groups -- the Center for Biological Diversity, Big Wildlife, Environmental Protection Information Center and the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center -- petitioned the commission to list the wolf as endangered.

Amaroq Weiss, the center’s West Coast wolf organizer, called the decision a “great day for wolf recovery in the West.”

Weiss also said she was “thrilled” on getting word of the birth of wolf pups in southern Oregon, adding “this is the first chapter in a longer story of wolves returning to California and living here in the wild.”

Weiss was referring to a report from federal and Oregon wildlife officials that a so-called “lone wolf” -- known as OR7 -- had found a mate in the state’s Cascade Mountains, and was the father of two pups.

Wolves had been nearly driven to extinction in the early 1900s, and had disappeared from California until OR7 crossed into the state from Oregon in December of 2011. He was the first known wolf in California since 1924.

And, officials say his pups are the first known wolf births in the Oregon Cascades since the mid-1940s.

Paul Henson, state supervisor of the Oregon office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, described the birth of the pups as “very exciting news.”

But not everybody is happy with California wildlife officials giving protection to wolves. Ranchers and livestock owners opposed the move, saying the predators threaten their animals, and ultimately, their livelihoods.

In a letter to the commission opposing protection for the wolf, Rob Miller, president of the The Del Norte Farm Bureau argued that providing protection would “cause real harm to farmers and ranchers who raise livestock.”

Miller noted that ranchers have “very limited resources to protect” their livestock.

A vote to finalize the commission's decision is scheduled for August.

Meanwhile, in a separate matter the California wildlife commissioners voted 4-0 to not list the white shark as a California endangered species.

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