MEDFORD — Oregon’s famous wandering gray wolf, OR-7, may have found the mate he has trekked thousands of miles looking for, wildlife authorities said Monday. It’s likely the pair has parented pups, and if confirmed, the rare predators would be the first breeding pair of wolves in Oregon’s Cascade Range since the early 1900s.
Officials said cameras on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in the southern Cascades captured several images of what appears to be a female wolf in the same area where OR-7’s GPS collar shows he has been living.
“I’m pretty impressed there is a second one,” said John Stephenson, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist based in Bend.
He said it is not proof, but it is likely the two wolves mated over the winter and are rearing pups that would have been born in April. Biologists won’t start looking for a den until June, to avoid endangering the pups.
“It’s amazing that he appears to have found a mate,” Stephenson said. “I didn’t think it would happen. It makes me more impressed with the ability of wolves to survive and find one another.”
Young wolves typically leave their pack and strike out for a new territory, hoping to find a mate and start a new pack.
OR-7 has been looking for a mate since leaving the Imnaha pack in northeastern Oregon in September 2011. His travels have taken him thousands of miles as he crossed highways, deserts and ranches in Oregon, moved down the spine of the Cascade Range deep into Northern California and then back to Oregon, all without getting shot, having an accident or starving. His trek took him through parts of Crook and Deschutes counties.
Along the way, he was photographed by a hunter’s trail camera in the Cascades outside Medford and by a biologist informing ranchers in Northern California he was in the area.
Federal Endangered Species Act protections for wolves have been lifted in eastern Oregon, where the bulk of them reside, but they remain in force in the Cascades. Protections for the animals have also ended in the last several years in the Northern Rockies and western Great Lakes.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed ending the listing across most of the rest of the country as populations have rebounded. A final decision is expected later this year.
The battery on OR-7’s GPS collar was expected to die soon, so, based on the wolf’s most recent locations, Stephenson placed trail cameras. The GPS locations also showed OR-7 was staying within a smaller area, common behavior when wolves have pups to feed.
When he checked the cameras last week, Stephenson said he found one had recorded a black wolf he had not seen before. An hour later, OR-7 was photographed on the same camera.
“She was kind enough to squat and urinate in front of the camera, and that made it clear enough that it was a female wolf,” Stephenson said.
Officials had planned to let OR-7’s collar die, but now that he appears to have found a mate, he will be fitted with a new one this summer to monitor the pack.
“... Now is not the time to do that,” Stephenson said.
Stephenson said they had no idea where the female came from. If she can be captured, they can draw a DNA sample to see if she is related to the Idaho wolves that started moving into Oregon in the 1990s.
OR-7’s finding a female is “another interesting twist in the story,” said Michelle Dennehy, a spokeswoman with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Other wolves may have made it to California from Oregon, but they didn’t have a tracking collar like him, so their journey went unrecorded. Also, it’s unclear whether there might be any wolves currently roaming Central Oregon.
“Of course, wolves could be anywhere in Oregon at this point,” Dennehy said.
— Bulletin reporter Dylan J. Darling contributed to this report.