A lone gray wolf has wandered across the Oregon border into California in what wildlife officials hailed Thursday as the historic return of a species not seen in the state in more than 80 years.
Biologists tracked the wolf's position to a few miles south of the state line in Siskiyou County, the California Department of Fish and Game said.
A global positioning system collar was placed on the wolf in February. Since then, the 2 1/2-year-old male has wandered more than 300 miles from its original location. Its movement into California was widely anticipated as it approached the border just before Christmas.
"Whether one is for it or against it, the entry of this lone wolf into California is an historic event," said Department of Fish and Game Director Charlton H. Bonham, acknowledging the debate over the spread of wolves in the western U.S.
The GPS data put the wolf in California as of Wednesday. Officials said they would only provide general information about its location, since gray wolves in California are designated a federally endangered species.
The last confirmed wild gray wolf in California was killed in 1924 by a trapper protecting livestock. Conflict between wolves and ranchers across the West remains a key point of tension as reintroduction efforts in recent decades have led to the species' spread.
Biologists said they don't know if the wolf will remain in California or wander back to Oregon or on to Nevada. They said the wide wandering from its pack in Oregon was typical behavior for a young male wolf.
The fish and game department expects other wolves to arrive in California at some point as part of a slow wolf migration linked to the 1995 introduction of a Canadian gray wolf pack to Idaho and areas around Yellowstone National Park. Wolves first re-entered Oregon in 1999.
Multiple wolves in California could lead to new packs becoming established, or they could simply wander on.
"If the gray wolf does establish a population in California, there will be much more work to do here," Bonham said.
While the wolves in California will be under federal protection, state regulators said they have no wolf management plan and no intention to actively reintroduce the animals to the state.