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These past few years have been grim for our nation’s wolves. In 2011, the government removed their endangered status in eight states, and their protections have weakened more and more since then. The 2013 hunting season saw the deaths of over 550 wolves in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, and this past season’s totals were nearly as high. Though wolves once roamed the entire country and numbered in the hundreds of thousands, they’re now found mainly in the Northern Rockies and Western Great Lakes, with an estimated population of 5,000.

Conservationists have winced as they witnessed lawmakers strip wolves of their protections one by one, but finally we have something to celebrate. On June 4, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to protect gray wolves under the California Endangered Species Act. The welcomed decision came after biologists confirmed the presence of a new wolf pack forming in Oregon near the California border.

As it turns out, the new family comes from a familiar bloodline! Its’ patriarch is famous lone wolf OR-7, a widely-tracked male who separated from his pack and was observed wandering many miles each day. While tracking OR-7 earlier this week, biologists from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife spotted the fuzzy heads of two of his new pups peeking out from inside a hollow log, and there may be even more cuties in the litter (the average is four to six). The pups are believed to have been born sometime last April.

John Stephenson, the biologist who took the first photos of these pups, believes that the new pack gives hope for the gray wolf’s return to California after being wiped out by hunters almost 90 years ago.

OR-7 himself is a descendant of one of the 14 wolves transplanted from Canada to Yellowstone National Park in a 1995 effort to reestablish their numbers in the U.S., so it’s fitting that he’s helping wolves return to California after so many years.

Image source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service