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Wandering wolf back on grid after eluding satellite

Published: Saturday, Sep. 29, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 2B

Oregon's famous wandering wolf was back on the grid Friday after escaping satellite surveillance for five straight days, allaying fears something might have happened to him.

OR-7 eluded biologists trying to get a look at him up close and personal Thursday in the wilds of Northern California, where he has been searching for a mate since last winter.

Karen Kovacs of the California Department of Fish and Game said she and other biologists found a wolf track in the dirt when they went looking for OR-7 in steep, timbered country in the Plumas National Forest, but they did not pick him up on a radio tracking device or see any other sign of him. The area had abundant deer for him to prey on, she said.

"Whether or not he was in an area that satellites couldn't get a fix on him, or his collar is starting to malfunction, we don't know," she said. "But he is back online this morning in western Plumas County."

They left an automated trail camera to see if they can get a picture of him, like the one taken by a hunter in Oregon last year.

Though reports of wolf sightings come in regularly, there has been no hard evidence of any other wolves in California, Kovacs said.

Meanwhile, a public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in Sacramento on whether to put gray wolves on the California state endangered species list. Conservation groups petitioned the California Fish and Wildlife Commission for the protection, but at least one rural county – Tehama – has formally opposed the idea.

The biggest opposition to the restoration of wolf populations has come from ranchers fearful they will prey on livestock, but so far there have been no reports OR-7 has attacked any.

The gray wolf is a federally protected species in California.

OR-7 was born in northeastern Oregon as a member of the Imnaha Pack and was captured and fitted with a tracking collar a year and a half ago. The GPS system sends daily signals to a satellite that plots his position, allowing biologists to follow his trek across Oregon into Northern California. The collars typically last about two years.

The young wolf left his pack a year ago to find a mate and a new territory. He is the first wolf known to roam into California since the last trapping of a wild wolf in 1924.

Not long after he left, state wildlife authorities put a kill order out on his father and another member of the pack for killing cattle. The Oregon Court of Appeals is considering whether the order violates the state Endangered Species Act.

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