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Home » Santa Clarita News » Environment » SCV Outdoor Report » SCV Outdoor Report: Extinct or Extirpated?
SCV Outdoor Report: Extinct or Extirpated?

SCV Outdoor Report: Extinct or Extirpated?

This week’s SCV Outdoor Report by Wendy Langhans tells us the difference between extinct and extirpated.  Passenger pigeons, dinosaurs, gray wolves: vanished from earth or gone from a region?

What is the difference between extinction and extirpation?  My first thought would be – that depends on “how long ago” it happened.  After all, dinosaurs became extinct about 65.95 million years ago.  It’s a good guess, but not an accurate one.

Undersea fossils 
Caption:  Dinosaur skeleton from the “Ancient Seas” exhibit at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.

Technically, extinction means “a species has vanished from the earth”.  So Tyrannosaurus rex became extinct about 96 million years ago.  But the last known Passenger Pigeon died almost 100 years ago (Sept. 1, 1914, to be exact).  And, according to this article from Smithsonian Magazine, the rate of extinction is accelerating.

On the other hand, extirpation “means completely gone from a particular region—in other words, ‘locally extinct’.” So gray wolves (Canis lupus) are not extinct but “were extirpated from California over 100 years ago”.

Caption: Arctic wolf painting (A. Cross).  Arctic wolves (Canis lupus arctos) are a subspecies of Grey Wolf.

According to Wildlife Biologist Ronald M. Jurek’s 1994 paper for the CA Dept. of Fish and Game, “Resident populations of wolves were extirpated from California sometime in the late 1800’s”.  He goes on to say “In the 19th century, people often misidentified the coyote, Canis lantrans, as a wolf or considered it to be a type of wolf.  The large, gray form of coyote of…high elevations of the Sierra Mountains, Canis lantrans lestes, was often called a ‘wolf’ or ‘gray wolf’ by observers, including fur trappers…”.

Certainly, here in Santa Clarita, we have had plenty of coyote sightings.  I hear them yipping at night in the Santa Clara River wash.  I’ve even seen one wandering in our neighborhood during the early morning hours.  But how can I be sure that what I saw was really a coyote?  What are the differences between a Coyote and a Wolf?


Here’s a slideshow from Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources that gives you a comparison.

1.  Size.  Wolves are longer, taller and heavier than coyotes.

“Height (at shoulder): Wolf 27-33 inches; coyote, 20-22 inches.

Length (nose to tail): Wolf 5-6 feet, coyote, 3 ½ – 4 ½ feet.

Weight: Wolf, 50-100 pounds; coyote, 25-45 pounds.”

2.  Nose shape.  “The snouts are distinguishing features. While the wolf’s snout is blocky, the coyote’s snout is pointed.”

3.  Ears.  “Coyote ears are larger in proportion to head size….Also, wolves have rounded ears. Coyote’s ears are pointed.”

4.  Fur color.  “Though some wolves are all black, the majority of wolves have a mix of tan, brown and black, with cinnamon on the ears. Coyote coats are similarly colored, though usually lighter.”

5.  Paw prints.  Coyote prints are 2-3/4” in length.  Wolf prints are 3-1/2” in length.

Often, what we see is influenced by what we expect to see. Knowing that a species is extirpated (locally extinct) sets our expectations for field observations.  But extirpation does not necessarily mean forever.  Next week we’ll talk about an new California four-legged immigrant.


Free Birding App.  For those of you who are looking for a good birding app for your Apple cellphone or iPad, the Cornell Lab of Ornitholgy is offering a free app.  Click here for more information.

Free Santa Clarita Trail App.  The City of Santa Clarita is offering a free Hike Santa Clarita App.  Click here for more information, here for the Android app or here for the iTunes app.


Upcoming Outdoor Events: 

Saturday, April 19, 8-10 am. Spring Birding.  With the weather changes and flowers blooming, now is the perfect time to discover which birds live and feed in our local mountains. Beginning birders are welcome. Binoculars optional. Meet at TowsleyCanyon’s front parking lot. 2 hours.  Click here for map and directions.

Sunday, April 27, 2 pm. Community Nature Series presents “Butterflies of Placerita Canyon”. Butterflies are all around us!  They have been called “flying jewels” or “flying flowers”.  Dr. Paul Levine will review the life cycle of butterflies and share photos of the many common butterflies found in our Santa Clarita valley. Click here for more information.

New trail maps available.  If you’d like to explore a bit on your own, the City of Santa Clarita has a website with trail maps of our local open spaces.

There’s also a new website for bicycle riders.  

Ask Dr. Norm:  Do you have questions about the flora, fauna, animals, rocks, etc. in our Santa Clarita Valley?  Here’s a place for you to ask your questions. Dr. Norman Herr, Ph.D., is a professor of science and computer education at CaliforniaStateUniversity, Northridge.

Tell Us About Your Hike: Here’s a new website where you can post pictures, provide feedback and make suggestions about the City of Santa Clarita’s trails and open spaces.


You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on “The SCV Outdoor Report”, brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

For the complete MRCA hike and activity schedule and for trail maps, click here or go to    

Or check out our Facebook page  – L.A. Mountains



Source: Santa Clarita News

SCV Outdoor Report: Extinct or Extirpated?

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