A lone wolf originally from Eastern Oregon is back in his home state after 11 months of rambling in California.
The gray wolf known as OR-7, the identification associated with his tracking collar, crossed into Oregon sometime between noon and midnight Tuesday, said Karen Kovacs, wildlife program manager for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. He was last tracked in southwest Klamath County.
Before passing over the state line, Kovacs said, OR-7 likely plunged into and swam across the Klamath River.
“Rivers do not seem to pose much of an obstacle for this critter,” Kovacs said. “It's not the first time he swam the Klamath, we know that.”
Once a member of the Imnaha pack in Wallowa County, OR-7 set out on his own in September 2011. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife researchers had captured and fitted him with a Global Positioning System tracking collar seven months earlier.
After leaving his pack, he crossed through Central Oregon, wandering through parts of Crook and Deschutes counties before heading into California in late 2011.
He returned to Oregon for about a month in March and April 2012, but Kovacs said he has been in California since, venturing into the Sierra Nevada.
So far, OR-7 has covered at least 4,400 miles in his travels, she said.
“And again that is minimum,” Kovacs said. “He's gone much further than that.”
Estimates of his mileage are based on the location points provided by his GPS collar, giving straight lines between them while he likely has meandered during his travels. The GPS collar on OR-7 sends a signal to a satellite four times a day, each time giving his current location, said John Stephenson, Oregon wolf coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Clouds or terrain may block the signal from reaching the satellite, which typically relays information daily to scientists on the ground tracking the wolf.
State scientists fitted the wolf's older brother, OR-3, with a different type of tracking collar a year earlier. The radio collar emits a signal detectable by mobile antennae gear that must be 5-10 miles from the animal on the ground or within 30 miles from the air.
OR-3, which would be about 5 years old, was last tracked in the Ochoco Mountains near Prineville in September 2011.
While the species is called the gray wolf, not all are that color. OR-7 is gray, with tan highlights; OR-3 was black in color. Stephenson said the species can also have white fur, although it's unusual to see that in the West.
As of last week, OR-7 had been staying in the northwest corner of Lassen County in California, according to the CDFW. It's estimated that he started north toward Oregon five or six days ago, Stephenson said.
“We'll see if he stays,” he said. “He came back into Oregon about this time last year.”
Stephenson said OR-7 is likely looking for food, other wolves and a mate.
It doesn't appear that he has found other wolves during his journey, although a CDFW worker photographed him in the company of two coyotes last May in Modoc County, Calif.
OR-7 was the first and only known wolf in California since the animals were killed off there in the 1920s. Wildlife officials on both sides of the border said they don't know where OR-7 will go next.
“We can't predict that type of thing,” said Michelle Dennehy, a spokeswoman with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The radio collar on OR-7 is designed to last three years, Stephenson said, so it should last into early next year. The wolf itself is likely about 4 years old. He was collared at age 2.
In the wild, wolves typically live five or six years, the wildlife experts said.
“You think about all that mileage,” Kovacs said, “they are probably just worn out.”