Against all odds, wolf OR7 may have found a mate

 

On May 3, a wolf slipped through the frame of a remote camera in southwestern Oregon, a blur of black and brown. The next day, under the cover of darkness, it stared directly at a camera, eyes aglow, and did something ordinary that, under the circumstances, was an extraordinary sight: It squatted and peed. This was a she-wolf.

Her gender had big implications because a famous he-wolf, known as OR7, was right nearby. OR7 rocketed to celebrity in 2011, when he was two years old. He ditched his pack in northeastern Oregon that year and went where no wolf had gone for decades. He traveled south through Oregon, crossing I-84 and four U.S. highways, and became the first wolf known to have been west of the Cascades since 1947. Then, he slipped over the border into California, giving his species a presence in that state for the first time in almost a century.

He proceeded on an epic and ongoing solo journey between Oregon and California, looking, people became fond of saying, "for love in all the wrong places." When wolves leave their pack, they do so to establish their own territory and their own brood. But the closest potential mates were among the packs OR7 left hundreds of miles behind in northeastern Oregon.

Recently, though, he stopped wandering so much. "Over the last few months, he was localizing in a more specific area than he had been before," says John Stephenson, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Biologist who set the remote cameras, knowing OR7's radio collar was near the end of its life. "And it was breeding season. But we still didn’t have any evidence that he had a mate."

Now, they do.

"It was a big surprise," says Stephenson. "This area in southwest Oregon, it’s over 250 miles from nearest pack. It’s a long distance to travel. And then they’ve got to find each other. It’s impressive. They’re good at finding each other."

There's still only circumstantial evidence that OR7 and the black-furred female have bred. If they did, the pups should start venturing from the den soon. Stephenson will continue monitoring the remote cameras for evidence, and eventually will look for the den. Biologists will also try to determine where the she-wolf traveled from.

Many stories of large carnivores traveling among us don't end well. Consider the puma killed on the 101 in Southern California last fall, attempting to cross between two pieces of fragmented habitat. As Judith Lewis Mernit reported for High Country News, had it lived, it promised to introduce much needed genetic diversity to the small and dying population of the Santa Monica Mountains.

The story of OR7, in contrast, has so far been remarkably hopeful -- a testament to the resilience of wolves, to their skill at surviving in human dominated landscapes, and to their ability to recolonize old habitat. OR7 hasn't navigated the treacherous urban jungle the Santa Monica pumas must. But his travels haven't been entirely "safe," either. He has crossed roads and agricultural land and circumscribed towns. He may have been tempted by livestock, but is not known to have killed domestic animals for dinner. Many people were thrilled by his journey; others wanted California wolf-free forever. "With wolves, a lot of people love them and a lot of people hate them, and sometimes there’s a lack of people in between," says Stephenson.

Stephenson points out that there are typically fewer livestock conflicts with lone wolves and small packs. "They become very effective hunters in larger packs and have more mouths to feed," he says. He hopes for a "grace period" with this new potential pack, in which managers can take measures to minimize wolf-livestock conflict, such as cleaning up cattle boneyards on ranches, installing deterrent fencing around calving areas, and putting range riders on patrol. He expects some of these things will get underway soon.

But for now, we can simply revel in the wonder OR7 provokes. Writing for Orion last fall on his own journey to the part of Northern California OR7 was simultaneously wandering, Joe Donnelly summed up the feeling quite well: "The air feels wild and dangerous and alive in a new way. So do I."

Cally Carswell is a High Country News contributing editor, and writes from Santa Fe, New Mexico. She tweets @callycarswell. Images courtesy USFWS / Oregon Department of Wildlife.

High Country News Classifieds
  • SEASONAL SAN JUAN RANGERS
    Seeking experienced crew members to patrol Colorado's most iconic mountain wilderness.
  • ENDANGERED SPECIES STAFF SCIENTIST
    The Center for Biological Diversity seeks a staff scientist to advocate for the conservation of endangered species. General position overview: The position will involve working...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY - ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH PROGRAM
    The Center for Biological Diversity - a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection of imperiled plants, animals and wild places - seeks a dynamic...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    The Center for Biological Diversity seeks a Staff Attorney to join our team of attorneys, scientists, campaigners who are working to protect America's public lands...
  • SOUTHWEST CONSERVATION ADVOCATE
    The Center for Biological Diversity seeks a Southwest Conservation Advocate to join our team of attorneys, scientists and campaigners who are working to protect America's...
  • OCEANS PROGRAM CAMPAIGNER
    The Center for Biological Diversity seeks an experienced campaigner for its oceans program. The aim of the position is to campaign for the protection of...
  • CLIMATE LAW INSTITUTE ATTORNEY
    The Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute is looking to add an attorney to its team and will consider applicants at both staff attorney...
  • FULL-TIME CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR
    The Center for Biological Diversity seeks a full-time Campaign Director in our Climate Law Institute to join our campaign for progressive, urgent government action to...
  • WESTERN WATER PROJECT MANAGER
    National Wildlife Federation is hiring NM-based position focused on riparian corridors, watershed health. Learn more and apply online: https://www.nwf.org/about-us/careers
  • ASSOCIATE PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Position Title: Associate Program Director Location: New Mexico; flexible in state Position reports to: Senior Program Director Position Closes: March 13, 2020 GENERAL DESCRIPTION: The...
  • DEAN, W. A. FRANKE COLLEGE OF FORESTRY AND CONSERVATION, UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA
    Dean, W. A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, apply http://bit.ly/2548umjobs. AA/EEO/ADA/Veterans Preference Employer
  • GRAPHIC DESIGNER
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks a creative and driven graphic design professional to design high quality print and digital collateral. The Graphic Designer will bring...
  • STEWARDSHIP SPECIALIST
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks experienced person to manage its 133 conservation easements in south-central Colorado.
  • CAMPAIGN REPRESENTATIVE
    Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign is hiring an experienced campaigner to lead our work challenging the oil and fracked gas industry on the Gulf...
  • AG LANDS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Oregon Agricultural Trust (OAT) seeks passionate relationship builder experienced in coordinating agricultural conservation easement transactions.
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • FINANCE DIRECTOR
    Mountain Studies Inst (MSI) is hiring 4+ positions: Finance Director; Coms/Engagmnt Mngr; Dev/Engagmnt Dir; Americorps vol
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND ENGAGEMENT MANAGER
    Mountain Studies Inst (MSI) is hiring 4+ positions: Finance Director; Dev/Engagement Dir; Coms/Engagement Mngr; & Americorps volunteer
  • SEASONAL TRAIL CREW LEADERS
    Lead the nation's premier volunteer-based trail crew programs on the spectacular Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. This is a great career-building opportunity for rising professionals....
  • ORGANIZING AND TRAINING COORDINATOR
    Is this your dream job? Are you looking to join a nationally recognized organizing network, live in a spectacular part of the West, and work...