New gray wolves confirmed as dispersing from northeastern Oregon in December are providing confirmation that left to their own devices, the charismatic predators may well recolonize California.
According to a report released in February by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, presence of a wolf in December has been confirmed in the White River Wildlife Management Unit (WMU), which surrounds Mount Hood east of Portland. ODFW confirmed wolf tracks in the area after a sighting was reported. ODFW also confirmed that on the same day of the White River wolf sighting, another wolf likely dispersing from the northeastern corner of the state was documented in the Heppner WMU, which encompasses much of the Umatilla National Forest and the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.
The agency can't tell whether the wolves are just passing through or have taken up residence, live alone or with other wolves, or are male or female. But the sightings are mounting evidence that if they aren't hounded out of the Cascade Range, wolves are quite likely to re-establish themselves in California.
Like OR-7, who got quite a bit of media attention in 2011 when he became the first wild wolf to venture into the state of California since the early 1920s, the White River wolf likely dispersed from one of the eight or so packs ranging the northeast corner of Oregon, whose founders swam across the Snake River from Idaho sometime before 2009.
The White River WMU is just under 300 air miles from the California line, and a band of nearly unbroken wolf habitat connects the area with OR-7's recent haunts in the vicinity. Adult grey wolves can cover as much as 30 miles in a day when hunting or searching for mates.
According to the report, Oregon's wild wolf population reached at least 64 wolves in 2013, a number that may well have had the effect of encouraging young wolves to strike out on their own to try to start their own packs in less crowded territories. If that trend persists without interference from gun-toting humans it seems inevitable that the gray wolf will return to California on a full-time basis, as the advance wave of wolves penetrates further into long-unoccupied territory full of deer and other game.
It's easy for Calfornians to forget that OR-7 didn't become a pioneer when he crossed our state line: he was already lauded as the first wolf in western Oregon in more than 60 years. And wolf fans in the Beaver State are looking at the White River wolf sighting with enthusiasm. Oregon Wild's wildlife advocate Rob Klavins told the Associated Press that he was crossing his fingers the White River wolf would prove to be female, and that she and OR-7 would meet and hit it off. If that fortuitous chain of events happened, the two could become the Cascades' first wolf breeding pair in a very long time.
"That's a big step for wolf recovery, if that is true," Klavins told AP.