About the California Wolf Center

Our Organization

The California Wolf Center is a one-of-a-kind, conservation, education, and research center dedicated to wolf recovery in the wild. Our physical location is 50 miles east of San Diego, near the town of Julian, California. We are a state-wide organization with staff and volunteers also working in Northern California striving to pave the way for the return of wolves in our state. Founded in 1977 to educate the public about wildlife and ecology, the Center is currently home to several packs of gray wolves, some of which play an important role in our educational programs. These wolves serve as ambassadors representing wolves in the wild. We also host highly endangered Mexican gray wolves, now being reintroduced into the southwestern United States. A visit to the Center provides a unique experience involving one of the most charismatic and controversial species in North American history.

Our Mission

Gary Boreland

Photo Credit: Gary Borland

The California Wolf Center is dedicated to the recovery of wolves in the wildlands they once roamed. We envision a landscape where wolves thrive in healthy ecosystems and wolves and people successfully coexist.

We accomplish our mission through:

  • Conservation: partnering with stakeholders to implement proactive solutions that enable wolves and people to successfully share the landscape and leading the way in endangered species recovery programs.
  • Education: increasing awareness and understanding of wolves through engaging educational programs and public outreach.
  • Research: studying wolves' biology, behavior, and history in California.
  • The California Wolf Center is a 501(c)(3) non-profit.

    Our Vision

    Wolves once roamed North America in countless numbers. Despite their important ecological role, and posing no real threat to humans, wolves were hunted nearly to extinction in the lower 48 United States. Today in the U.S., the haunting melody of a howling wolf pack is heard in only a handful of states, as wolves have been exterminated from a vast majority of their original range.

    By learning factual information about wolves, people come to understand that this highly social and intelligent animal also plays a key role in the functioning of a healthy ecosystem, and we learn to coexist with an animal we once feared. This new understanding deepens our appreciation of and our sense of stewardship towards wolves and other species and the habitats they need to survive. Our survival depends on theirs, and their survival depends on our decisions and actions.

    Our goal is to provide the best, most natural environment for all wolves living at the California Wolf Center and to provide complete and balanced information about gray wolves and the environment to the public so that people can make informed decisions about the issues that affect us all.

    What the California Wolf Center is doing to help recover wolves in California

    Bonnie Mcdonald

    Photo Credit: Bonnie McDonald

    The California Wolf Center is excited to celebrate the beginning of the return of gray wolves to California. This is an opportunity to restore a native, keystone predator and iconic symbol of wilderness to our state, after being absent for decades following extirpation by humans.

    To prepare for the return of wolves, we are working to forge a new path for wolf recovery in California that focuses on solutions, instead of the conflict that has often pervaded wolf recovery elsewhere. Because human-caused mortality is the leading cause of death for gray wolves, human tolerance and acceptance of sharing the landscape with wolves is perhaps the single most important factor in safeguarding wolves' road to recovery. You can support these important efforts by making a tax-deductible donation today.


    Through education programs, public outreach, partnerships with agencies and other conservation groups, and developing relationships with stakeholders in communities where wolves will first return, the California Wolf Center is building the foundation of support and tolerance that will allow wolves to thrive in California. Focusing our efforts in northern California, where wolves will first enter the state, since OR7's entry we are:

  • Reaching thousands of people through public outreach and education programs to provide information about wolves, including by bringing in outside experts from the Northern Rockies to speak on how to coexist with wolves
  • Offering our expertise as a member of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's stakeholder group convened to develop a wolf management plan
  • Serving as a steering committee member for the Pacific Wolf Coalition, a group of organizations working towards a common goal of wolf recovery in the Pacific Northwest
  • Building relationships with communities who have concerns about wolves' potential impacts on livestock, in order to partner on projects to reduce these conflicts once a wolf population becomes established
  • Supporting legal protections for wolves to ensure they have the best chance at recovery
  • The California Wolf Center has years of experience supporting proactive, non-lethal methods to prevent conflicts between livestock and Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest. Our approach of partnering with stakeholders to find common ground and advance solutions has proven to reduce wolf-livestock conflicts and thereby directly support wolf recovery. Building on these successes in the Southwest, we are working to make non-lethal conflict reduction methods a part of the solution in California from the start.

    Support California Wolf Recovery


    Imagine someday hearing wolves howl at night in California's wilderness! This is a critical time for wolves. The recent proposal to strip federal protections for gray wolves across most of the country, including in California, threatens the ability of wolves to reclaim their place among California's native wildlife. It is up to California to ensure the future of wolves in our state. Together we can make it happen! Click to DONATE NOW!


    We owe wolves a brighter future here in California, and as the only wolf center in California solely dedicated to wolf recovery in the wild, your support will directly help us achieve that mission. DONATE HERE to support this important work.

    For more information on wolf recovery in California, click here. If you'd like to download a copy of information on wolf recovery in California, click here.

    Our Wolves

    The California Wolf Center is home to several packs of gray wolves, including an impressive pack of Alaskan gray wolves as well as multiple packs of Mexican gray wolves. Some of our wolf packs are featured in our educational programs. Seeing our resident wolves helps people form a bridge of understanding and heightens interest in conserving wolves in the wild.

    Our ambassador pack of Alaskan gray wolves is an intact pack that retains its wild nature. This allows thousands of visitors each year to observe the natural social interactions that occur in wild wolf packs. It also gives students and researchers opportunities to learn valuable information about wolf behavior.

    Mexican wolves once roamed the southwestern United States in countless numbers, but government-sponsored eradication programs almost wiped out this distinct subspecies of North American gray wolf. In the mid-1970's, only seven unrelated Mexican wolves were available to start a captive breeding program. Today, as a result of that successful breeding program, there are approximately 75 free-ranging Mexican wolves living in the wild. However, they remain one of the rarest land mammals in the world.

    The California Wolf Center participates in the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan, a bi-national effort to help Mexican wolves recover in the wild. We are the third largest breeding and host facility for Mexican gray wolves in the United States.

    Most of the Center's Mexican gray wolf packs reside in spacious, off-exhibit enclosures that help prepare them for potential release into the wild. Retaining their wild nature by keeping them off-exhibit will help them to survive if they are selected for release into the Mexican Wolf Recovery Area in New Mexico and Arizona. The Mexican wolves that are not candidates for release or breeding are on limited display during some of our educational programs. This gives visitors the extraordinary opportunity to view the distinctive physical features of this magnificent and unique subspecies of gray wolf.

    Our Team


    Erin Hunt, Director of Operations

    Chelsea Davis, Animal Curator

    Christina Souto, Program Coordinator

    Heidi Pankratz, Conservation Associate

    Karin Vardaman, Director of California Wolf Recovery


    Norm Switzer, DVM

    Chairman of the Board, Executive Director

    Profession: Veterinarian, Partner at Midland Animal Clinic

    Daniel Moriarty, PhD

    Profession: Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology, University of San Diego

    Patrick Valentino, JD

    Director of Public Relations

    Profession: Partner, VLP Law Group LLP (San Francisco)

    Helen Vanderswag


    Profession: Clinical Research Nurse/ Registered Nurse

    Pam Howard

    Profession: Teacher and Guidance Counselor

    Hayes Anderson


    Profession: Retired Educator

    Kim Carey

    Profession: Retired Legal Specialist

    Robert Cisneros

    Profession: Animal Care Supervisor, Collections, Husbandry, Science, San Diego Zoo; Vice President of the American Association of Zoo Keepers

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