The California Fish and Game Commission postponed a decision Wednesday to decide if the gray wolf should be listed as a threatened or endangered species.
The decision not to take action came after three hours of testimony from clashing animal activists and ranchers.
"Wolves kill less than 0.0001 percent of the 1 billion head of cattle in this United States," said Kimberly Richard, of angelsprotectors.org, working to help gray wolves.
Ranchers see wolves as a threat to their livestock.
"The big game that the wolves will typically hunt isn't nearly as numerous here in California as it is in other states," said Mike Williams, of the Ventura Cattleman's Association.
An extermination campaign in the 1920s wiped out the wolves. However, a radio-collared lone wolf known as OR-7 made a 300-plus mile journey into California in 2011 marking the species’ first appearance in the state since 1924.
The lone wolf tracked into California has sparked an intense debate among those who seek to protect the species and those who oppose reintroducing it into the state.
Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity admits that wolves can pose a danger to ranchers and their livestock, but said the "number lost to wolves is very small."
Greenwald, an advocate for providing legal protection to the once-native species, said that there are some things that ranchers can do to minimize the negative effects of wolves. Range riders patrolling the grounds, installation of fences or enclosures with flagger and making noise will deter the wolves from interfering with livestock.
Those arguing for protection of the gray wolf say that the species is beneficial to the ecosystem. But opponents belief the negatives outweigh the positives.
"Not only could ranchers not legally control wolves attacking their cattle, CESA (California Endangered Species Act) listing would mean a rancher cannot even peacefully chase a wolf off his property," said Kirk Wilbur, director of government relations for the California Cattlemen’s Association (CCA).
The CCA instead supports a wolf management plan that responds to the concerns of various stakeholders.
There is a pending proposal by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to remove federal protection for the wolves throughout much of the country. If the Fish and Game Commission decides to provide protection to the species, it would affect the recovery of wolves in California.
The commission could take up the vote again in the summer.