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
  • WILDLAND FIRE INSTRUCTOR
    Needed: instructor with 5 years *documented* instruction experience, current qualifications, M-410 or equivalent, and able to work as-needed for NM non-profit working with at-risk youth.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Seeking passionate full-time Executive to lead the oldest non-profit organization in Idaho. Must have knowledge of environmental issues, excellent organizational, verbal presentation and written skills,...
  • COLORADO PROGRAM MANAGER
    The National Parks Conservation Association, the leading non-profit conservation organization protecting Americas national parks, seeks a Program Manager for its Colorado Field Office located in...
  • CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Carbondale based public lands advocate, Wilderness Workshop, seeks a Conservation Director to help direct and shape the future of public land conservation on the West...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR WATER PLANNING WITH WRA'S HEALTHY RIVERS PROGRAM
    Founded in 1989, Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is dedicated to protecting the Wests land, air, and water to ensure that vibrant communities exist in balance...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED BIGHORN RIVER BASIN PROJECT MANAGER
    The Bighorn River Basin Project Manager identifies and implements projects to improve streamflows, restore stream and riparian habitat, improve fish passage and rehabilitate or replace...
  • NON-PROFIT OPERATIONS MANAGER
    One of the most renowned community-based collaboratives in the country seeks full-time Operations Manager to oversee administrative, financial, fund development, and board development duties. BS/BA...
  • RUSTIC HORSE PROPERTY
    in NM. 23 acres, off the grid, rustic cabin, organic gardens, fruit trees, fenced, call 505-204-8432 evenings.
  • DIRECTOR OF VISITOR SERVICES & BOOKSTORE OPERATIONS
    The San Juan Mountains Association in Durango, CO is seeking a Director of Visitor Services & Bookstore Operations to lead our visitor information program &...
  • SOLAR POWERED HOME NEAR CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
    1800 sf home on 4.12 acres surrounded by Natl Forest and recreational opportunities in a beautiful area (Happy Valley) between Torrey and Boulder. [email protected], www.bouldermoutainreality/properties/grover/off-the-grid-in-happy-valley,...
  • 40 ACRE ORGANIC FARM
    potential fruit/hay with house, Hotchkiss, CO, Scott Ellis, 970-420-0472, [email protected]
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 25-year legacy of success...
  • LAND CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Manage, develop and implement all stewardship and land management plans and activities on both private and public lands. Guide and direct comprehensive planning efforts, provide...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one. 928-380-6570, www.testshop.com. More info at https://bit.ly/2Kgi340.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.