Oregon’s famous wandering wolf OR-7 may soon be dropping off the maps.
State wildlife officials announced that they don’t plan to recollar the wolf – meaning that his future travels across the West would no longer be tracked. And that means his path would no longer be mapped for the world to follow on the Internet.
OR-7 was born in 2009 into the Imnaha Pack in Northeastern Oregon. He was fitted with a GPS collar in 2011.
That September, he began a solo journey across the Cascade Mountains. He headed south and became California’s first confirmed wolf since 1924, then returning to Oregon.
As OR-7’s journey enters its third year, the battery of his GPS collar is expected to reach the end of its lifespan.
According to John Stephenson, a private land and wolf coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as of now, officials don’t plan to re-collar OR-7, but a final decision hasn’t been made yet.
“No low battery signals have come through, so there’s still time,” he said.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy said her agency currently has no plans to replace the collar's battery because of its focus on tracking wolf packs, rather than lone wolves.
“We have no evidence that OR-7 has mated, or that he’s part of a pack,” Dennehy said. “So at this point we don’t plan to recollar OR-7.”
And if four pairs of breeding wolves can be documented for three straight years in Oregon, Dennehy said they’ll be considered for removal from the state endangered species list.
2014 would be the third straight year.
But not everyone agrees that these breeding numbers are a strong enough indicator of wolf health.
The Oregon Department of Fish and wildlife documented 46 wolves and six breeding pairs in 2012. Numbers were up in 2013, with 64 wolves in eight packs.
Rob Klavins, wildlife advocate for the environmental non-profit Oregon Wild, said that the state’s wolf conservation plan doesn’t go nearly far enough.
“The idea that the population has recovered when we have four breeding pairs is not a scientifically defensible or sustainable recovery," he said. "That’s a long way from recovery.”
Though Klavins said Oregon’s wolf conservation plan needs to be improved, he acknowledged that state funding is often at a premium.
Dennehy said wolf management is done collaboratively between state officials and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
One consequence of not replacing OR-7's GPS unit is that the wolf will avoid the risk of injury that can result from being captured and refitted with a collar.
Dennehy said that OR-7 has been spending his recent days in western Klamath County and eastern Jackson County.
But where OR-7 goes, once the battery goes out on his GPS collar, is anyone’s guess.
In the spirit of OR-7’s journey, the Wolf OR-7 Expedition will begin in May — a filmed retracing of the animal’s route.
Correction: March 20, 2013. The original version of this story incorrectly stated the year of birth for the wolf, OR-7. He was born in 2009. The original version of this story incorrectly stated the year of the last confirmed gray wolf sighting in California. That year was 1924.
Information from a story from our news partner, the Klamath Falls Herald and News, was used in this report.