OR-7, the wolf who captivated wildlife-loving Californians when he started wandering into California in 2011, has been spending time in the vicinity of a female wolf in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in southwestern Oregon this month, and data from his radio transmitter indicates the two may have denned there, according to an alert on the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife website.
If that's the case, then chances are the pair have had a litter, say biologists. But they won't know for sure until June or July. "It is likely that this new wolf and OR-7 have paired up. More localized GPS collar data from OR-7 is an indicator that they may have denned," said John Stephenson, a wolf biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "If that is correct, they would be rearing pups at this time of year."
If so, OR-7 and his mate would be the first wolves to raise a litter in that part of Oregon in close to a century, a litter that may well become the first wild wolf pack in a long time to claim California as part of its territory.
If OR-7 and his mate have indeed started a family, the pups would be about four weeks old at the moment, according to wildlife officials. Gray wolves usually have litters of five or six pups, which are doted on by their parents and other adult pack members until they reach maturity at 10 months or so.
Since leaving California most recently in March 2013, OR-7 has been hanging out in a stretch of the Oregon Cascades between Medford and Klamath Falls, in a rugged and mountainous territory roughly centering on Crater Lake National Park.
California's Fish and Game Commission is considering this spring whether to protect the gray wolf under the California Endangered Species Act. It's been a complicated discussion, because that state law assumes the definition of a species to include a breeding population, which OR-7, by himself, was not.
But if OR-7 has indeed found a mate, and if the two can reasonably be suspected of having had a litter within a few days' strolling distance of California, that may well change everything. We'll keep you posted.