For now the plastic collar around the neck of OR-7, the famous well-traveled gray wolf, is just decoration.
The tracking collar stopped sending GPS data in February and transmitting a VHF radio signal in May, John Stephenson, Oregon wolf coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Bend, said Wednesday. While a satellite uploads GPS data from animal-tracking gear, wildlife researchers must use a receiver on the ground or from a plane to pick up the radio signal.
“It all finally wore out,” he said. “The battery died, basically.”
Wandering thousands of miles from Northeast Oregon into California and back into Oregon before finding a mate and establishing a territory near Crater Lake, OR-7 owes his fame to his collar. The device documented his remarkable journey that began in September 2011. His name, OR-7, indicates he was the seventh wolf affixed with a tracking collar by state researchers in Oregon.
Knowing the electronics were close to blinking out, state and federal wildlife managers made three attempts — last summer, last fall and early this spring — to trap OR-7 or another member of his Rogue Pack, said Mark Vargas, district wildlife biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Medford. The hope was to replace the batteries and keep the GPS data coming in and the radio signal going from OR-7 or track the pack by collaring another one of the wolves.
“We’d love to get a collar back on OR-7,” he said, “but that didn’t happen.”
Without the regular information, they rely on trail camera photos and sightings to monitor him, Stephenson said.
“A hunter got a visual of him last week at the head of the Wood River Valley,” he said. The valley is near Fort Klamath. OR-7 is recognizable by his collar, color and size. There have been no reports of him or his kin attacking livestock.
Two other wolves with collars who dispersed from Northeast Oregon have also been located in northern Klamath County near OR-7’s territory. All three wolves were once part of the Imnaha Pack, whose territory is near Enterprise.
Brother of OR-7, OR-3 left the pack in May 2011. That fall, he was tracked via his VHF -only collar in the Ochocos near Prineville. This summer, a trail camera captured a photo of OR-3 in the Cascades of northern Klamath County. Like his brother, OR-3 wears a collar that appears to no longer be functioning. Stephenson said OR-3 also has an ear tag, which helped identify him in the photo.
Another wolf, OR-25, has a working GPS collar and passed close to North Sister and Mount Bachelor earlier this year before heading to woods near Silver Lake and Klamath Marsh.
Although not able to track and locate OR-7 like before, Stephenson and Vargas know where he and his pack roam. For the past three years, the wolf and his mate have hunted and raised pups around the Sky Lakes Wilderness Area between Prospect and Fort Klamath. The pair had three pups last year and at least two pups this year, making for a pack of seven wolves. None of the wolves in the pack has a working tracking collar.
Now 6 years old, OR-7 left his pack when he was 2. His pups from last year are full-sized yearlings and may set out on their own soon.
“(It) wouldn’t be surprising if one of them took off this fall,” Stephenson said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7812,