In 2011, a lone gray wolf named Journey made a 1,000-mile trek from Oregon into Northern California.
Before Journey, wolves had been absent in California since 1924.
Journey’s story was part of a presentation business attorney Debra Scheufler ’95 recently made to the California Western Student Animal Legal Defense Fund at the law school.
“Wolves are apex predators—in other words, top of the food chain—and play a vital role in our ecosystem,” says Scheufler who volunteers at the California Wolf Center (CWC) located in Julian, Calif.
Scheufler highlighted the wolf recovery work being undertaken by the CWC which focuses on the critically endangered Mexican Gray Wolf, also known as the Lobo, and the North American Gray Wolf.
“As the wolf population in Northern California slowly grows, the challenges with human, wolf, and livestock coexistence grow exponentially,” says Scheufler. “The CWC works diligently at creating relationships with stakeholders to foster working circles and peaceful coexistence.”
Scheufler explains her team works with the ranchers to educate them about wolves. “We have these programs in place to keep wolves away from cattle, and we actually have a Range Steward program where we train people to ride the range and keep cattle and wildlife from interacting.”
The CWC is one of 54 members of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for the critically endangered Mexican Gray Wolf and is one of the largest captive breeding and release facilities in the U.S. and Mexico. The blue range release area in the Gila Mountains of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico is the designated release area for these wolves.
In other states, wolves do not fare so well. “Humans are the wolves’ only natural enemy,” Scheufler explains. “Humans are killing the wolves, not out of fear but for sport.”
In many states, such as Arizona, Montana, and North Dakota, contests are organized where people can sign up to kill wildlife—wolves, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, and mountain lions.
“One of the projects I'm working on is doing legal work to shut these contests down,” says Scheufler. “I am working with Plan B To Save Wolves, a nonprofit that supports organizations in their mission to protect wolves, to enact legislation to shut these blood sports down.”
In this work, Scheufler’s focus is on gambling statutes, land trust doctrine, and public nuisance. “Ryan Fadden, a 2L at California Western has helped me tremendously in this effort, and we are making headway,” she adds.
Scheufler’s path to a career in law has been circuitous and unusual. “At 21, I thought I would be a dancer for the rest of my life,” she says. But after sustaining two foot injuries, she segued into competitive bodybuilding and wellness coaching.
Many of her fitness clients were attorneys, and gradually her interest in the law grew. “I loved the way their minds worked,” says Scheufler.
Graduating from California Western in 1995, Scheufler passed the Bar on her first attempt and started her own practice right away.
As a business attorney, she helps clients with entity structure, contracts, trademarks, and other business and legal matters.
As a passionate wildlife advocate, Scheufler uses her legal mind and training to help wolves build on their foothold in California.
“What people don’t often realize is that a flourishing wolf population is good for everyone,” says Scheufler.
“All apex predators play a vital role in the ecosystem and if we take out that apex predator it just goes amuck.”
To find out more about the work of the California Wolf Center visit californiawolfcenter.org