Bend Bulletin: OR-7, the well-traveled wolf, is a father

By Dyling Darling
The Bend Bulletin
Published June 5th, 2014

Once a lone wanderer, wolf OR-7 is now a father.

Since learning last month that the famed gray wolf had found a mate, federal and state scientists were curious as to whether the pair had pups.

John Stephenson, Oregon wolf coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Bend, and Mark Vargas, district biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Central Point, set out Monday to find out. During their trip into the southwest Oregon Cascades, Stephenson was able to capture photos of two pups.

“I just kind of got lucky,' he said.

The pups were found in a clearing (they tried to hide from him in a hollow log) and are the first-known wolves to be born in the Oregon Cascades since the mid-1940s. OR-7’s offspring join their father in being newsmakers. Tracked by GPS collar, he covered thousands of miles as he trekked from Northeast Oregon deep into Northern California in recent years. Along the way, he became the first-known wolf in Central Oregon in about 70 years, passing through parts of Crook and Deschutes counties before being the first-known wolf in California in nearly 90 years.

And there likely are more than just two pups. “Litters are typically four to six,' said Michelle Dennehy, ODFW spokeswoman in Salem.

The pups are likely 5 to 6 weeks old, Stephenson said. Although the species is called gray wolf, they can vary in coloring. OR-7 is gray and his mate is black. Of the two pups photographed, one is gray and the other black. GPS data show OR-7 was five to 10 miles away from the pups when Stephenson snapped the photos around 10:30 a.m. Monday, and he didn’t see the female wolf.

The young wolf family could be the start of a wolf pack, a group of wolves that roam a territory together, he said.

For a couple of years, it didn’t seem like OR-7 would settle on a spot.

Born into the Imnaha pack in Northeast Oregon in April 2009, OR-7 was fitted by ODFW scientists with a GPS collar in February 2011. The name “OR-7' indicates he is the seventh wolf collared in Oregon since the animals started their return in the last decade. He left the Imnaha pack in September 2011 and was in Central Oregon later that year.

He returned to Oregon from California last year and last month the Fish and Wildlife Service announced he appeared to have found a mate. The pair had established a territory in the southern Oregon Cascades in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. The question of where OR-7’s mate came from persists, and Stephenson said he is hopeful scat collections and DNA tests will answer it.

News of OR-7 becoming a father brought mixed reactions Wednesday, from excitement for a high-level wildlife manager to jubilation for a conservationist to trepidation for a ranching industry representative.

“This is very exciting news,' Paul Henson, state supervisor for the Fish and Wildlife Service said in a news release. “It continues to illustrate that gray wolves are being recovered.'

Wolves were wiped out in Oregon in part because of state-sponsored hunts, with the state paying out the last wolf bounty in the late 1940s. Nearly 20 years ago, the Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced wolves to Idaho and Yellowstone National Park. Since the late 2000s wolves have re-emerged in Oregon, first wandering in from Idaho and then establishing breeding pairs and then packs in the state’s northeast corner.

Debates continue about how wolves and cattle can coexist and whether state wildlife managers should be able to kill wolves that attack livestock.

During his remarkable trek, OR-7 did not attack any livestock, Stephenson, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said.

“OR-7 has been a tremendous ambassador for wolves, and part of that is he has stayed out of trouble,' said Rob Klavins, northeast Oregon field representative for Oregon Wild. The Portland-based conservation group held a naming contest for the wolf in late 2011 and early 2012. The winning name was “Journey.'

He said word of OR-7’s pups is positive news for wildlife supporters. “This demonstrates that wolves are surprisingly resilient and, given a chance, they can do pretty well,' Klavins said.

Ranchers graze cattle around where OR-7 and his young family now roam. Stephenson said he’s talked with them about things they can do to alleviate wolf and cattle conflicts, chiefly removing any piles of bones from dead cattle.

Todd Nash, wolf committee chairman for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, said southwest Oregon ranchers should learn as much as they can about wolves as they’ll likely be dealing with them now that OR-7 settled on a territory.

“This is the beginnings of a pack,' Nash said.