The wandering wolf OR-7 appears to have a mate.
Remote cameras in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest have captured several images of a black female in the same area as OR-7, who has been on the move since 2011 in search of new territory and a mate to form a new pack.
The images were recovered Wednesday by John Stephenson, wolf biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as part of an ongoing wolf monitoring program by state and federal wildlife biologists.
"This information is not definitive, but it is likely that this new wolf and OR-7 have paired up," Stephenson said.
He said transmissions from OR-7's radio collar also indicate the two have denned.
"If that is correct, they would be rearing pups at this time of year," Stephenson said.
The two have never been in the same shot but they have passed the camera not long after each other, indicating they are aware of each other. Biologists determined that the black wolf was a female because she's smaller than OR-7 and squats to urinate.
U.S. biologists and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will wait until June or later to confirm whether there are pups. If the two have produced offspring, they would be the first wolves known to breed in the Oregon Cascades since the early 20th century. Evidence of another wolf in the Cascades surfaced in December, when biologists found tracks on the eastern slopes of Mount Hood. But there is no indication that those were the tracks of the black wolf, Stephenson said.
The news of an OR-7 mate drew cheers from wildlife advocates.
"For people who appreciate native wildlife in Oregon, the news doesn't get any bigger than this," said Rob Klavins of Oregon Wild. The discovery comes as the OR-7 Expedition readies a 1,200-mile trek retracing as much as possible of OR-7's path. The group of people, including a wolf ecologist, wildlife educator and filmmaker, will spend 42 days traveling from the Eagle Cap Wilderness in Oregon to the Crater Lake area and finally to Mount Shasta in California. OR-7 is believed to be the first confirmed wolf in western Oregon since the last one was killed under a livestock protection bounty program in 1947. He is also the first confirmed wolf in California since 1924.
He was born in spring 2009 in the shadow of the Eagle Cap Wilderness in northeastern Oregon as part of the Imnaha pack. In February 2011, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists collared him with a Global Positioning System device.
OR-7 left the pack in September, 2011, days after the state issued a kill order for his father and sibling for preying on livestock. Most Oregon wolves that have taken off on similar journeys, called dispersals, have stayed in the northeastern sector of the state or ventured into Idaho.
Lately, OR-7 has spent most of his time in the southwest Cascades, making occasional forays into California.
The wolf's collar has eclipsed its normal life span though it is still sending signals. Biologists had said they would not replace it, but Michelle Dennehy, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the agency would now re-evaluate that.
"We definitely want to keep at least one animal collared," Stephenson said. "Now is not the time to do it. It's a sensitive time and OR-7s collar is still going strong." Biologists will monitor OR-7 and the other wolf using remote cameras, collecting DNA from any scat discovered and by surveying the pups when appropriate.
At the end of last year, there were 64 known wolves in Oregon. Except for OR-7, most are in the northeast.
The animals are protected under the state and federal Endangered Species acts. -- Lynne Terry