The gray wolf known as OR7 has achieved celebrity status by virtue of being the first confirmed gray wolf in California in several decades. OR7, so named because he was the seventh gray wolf to be given a GPS collar by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, left his pack in the mountains of northeastern Oregon in September 2011 and traveled south through eastern Oregon and the Cascade Mountain Range, eventually crossing into California Dec. 28, 2011, near the town of Dorris in Siskiyou County.
OR7, or “Journey” as he was nicknamed during his travels through Oregon, wandered through northeastern California in Modoc, Shasta, Siskiyou and Lassen counties until crossing back into Oregon in early March and then back to California where he has remained since April 17.
OR7 is a male wolf approximately 3 years of age. It is normal for young wolves to leave their pack and strike out on their own to find a mate and eventually join another pack or start one of their own.
As part of his quest for a mate, OR7 has traveled as far as 40 air miles in a single day. OR7 first entered Plumas County in late May. After traveling down the east side of Lake Almanor, he traveled west and then north again back to Lassen County where he spent most of the month of June. He returned to Plumas County in early July and has since then wandered through northwestern Plumas County and northeastern Butte County. His last reported location was in Butte County July 18.
The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) is tracking the wolf. There have been some technical issues with the GPS tracking system. Even when DFG has accurate up-to-date location information, staffers will only release very general location information to the public in an effort to protect the wolf.
But what is the history of the gray wolf in California? Less is known for sure about that.
What is known is that the last confirmed gray wolf in California was trapped and killed in Lassen County in 1924. Biologists who have tried to determine the history of the wolf agree that gray wolves inhabited the Sierra and Cascade mountains in California.
Some biologists believe that wolves also inhabited the Coast Range, especially south of Monterey. Other scientists are less certain about wolves in the Coast Range, noting that the languages used by native Californians and early settlers did not have words to distinguish between wolves and coyotes. It is possible that reported wolf sightings might have been coyotes. It is also likely that the nearly extinct Mexican wolf was also present in parts of southern California.
The wolf has a long history of association with humans, having been despised and persecuted in most agricultural communities due to its attacks on livestock. As western settlers moved into California it is likely that they took every opportunity to eliminate wolves. The federal government actively trapped and poisoned wolves into the 1920s in an effort to protect livestock.
The future of the wolf in California is just as uncertain as its past. No matter what happens to OR7, he is not likely to be the last wolf in California. While there are no plans by state or federal agencies to reintroduce the wolf to California, expanding populations in the northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest make it very possible that other young wolves will strike out on their own and eventually find their way to California in an attempt to start a new life.
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