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Wolf Wanders to  California

Thanks to Oregon’s wandering wolf, California saw its first Canis lupus in the state since 1924. The young gray wolf known as OR-7, but now renamed “Journey” thanks to conservation group Oregon Wild’s naming contest, was confirmed in the Golden State via his GPS tracking collar on Dec. 29. 

According to Sean Stevens of Oregon Wild, “I’d be hard pressed to think of a more famous or accomplished wolf than OR-7.”

OR-7, aka Journey, was the first wolf west of the Cascades in 65 years, Stevens says, and the first wolf in California in 90 years. 

California, like Oregon, has not reintroduced the wolves that were once native, but instead has awaited their gradual return. The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) says, “This particular animal is exhibiting normal dispersal behavior for a young male and there is no way to predict whether he will stay in California, return to Oregon or travel east into Nevada.” 

California DFG officials say they will be sharing only general location information on the wolf because it is protected under the Endangered Species Act. The first known photo of OR-7 was recently discovered. It was taken in southern Oregon by a deer hunter’s trail camera. Stevens says, last he heard, the wolf had ventured deeper into California but was still in Siskiyou County.

Oregon currently has about four wolf packs — the Snake River, Walla Walla, Imanha and Wenaha packs — and 24 or 25 wolves, depending on OR-7’s location. A new pup was confirmed for the Wenaha pack in December. Only the Walla Walla pack is currently able to be designated a “breeding pair,” meaning the pack produced at least two pups that survived through the end of the year when they were born.   

State wolf management rules say ODFW can only start removing state Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves when there are four breeding pairs on Oregon’s east side and four on the west side. Wolves are federally protected in Oregon only west of Highway 395, Stevens says. 

Wolves have been controversial in the West since they were reintroduced and began to disperse. But California’s DFG says, “In other Western states the impact of depredation on livestock has been small, less than predation by coyotes and mountain lions,” and adds that “concerns about human safety are largely based on folklore and are unsubstantiated in North America.”

OR-7 became an international sensation as wolf fans tracked his journey from the Imnaha pack’s homeground in northeast Oregon hundred of miles across the state to southern Oregon. Children from Oregon to Finland weighed in on Oregon Wild’s contest to name the wandering wolf. The finalists were: Arthur (Arttu in Finnish), Journey, Lupin, Max and Takota. Stevens says the name Journey got about 42 percent of the votes.