Lone wolf causes stir as it stays in California's far north

01/05/2012 12:00 AM

01/25/2012 12:46 PM

A wild wolf has been back among us for a week now, the first in nearly 90 years. True to form, he is beginning to cause a stir.

The 2-year-old male wolf known as OR7 crossed from Oregon into California's Siskiyou County on Dec. 28. Initial speculation that he might soon turn back to Oregon has been laid to rest.

The wolf has, in fact, roamed deeper south into Siskiyou County in recent days, according to data provided by the GPS collar it wears. The trek began in September when the wolf left its home pack in northeastern Oregon on a walkabout now nearing 800 miles.

"We still have a California wolf," said Mark Stopher, a special assistant to the director of the California Department of Fish and Game, who is leading the state's initial wolf management efforts.

"He has moved farther south into California and is still in forested habitat, providing both cover and food. It will be interesting to see what he does next."

The first known photo of the wolf emerged Wednesday, thanks to a remote trail camera set up by Allen Daniels. The 24-year-old from Central Point, Ore., was merely hoping for pictures of deer he planned to hunt, but ended up snapping a celebrity.

The slightly blurry photo, shot Nov. 14 – before OR7 reached California – was first published by the Ashland Daily Tidings newspaper on Wednesday. It shows a large, healthy-looking wolf with a collar in a sun-dappled forest.

Roblyn Brown, assistant wolf biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, told the newspaper that satellite tracking confirmed OR7 was in the same area on Nov. 14. After reviewing the photograph Tuesday, she said the wolf "likely" is OR7.

Also Wednesday, the wolf was bestowed a fitting if simple new name: "Journey." In online voting over the past 10 days, more than 700 people picked that name from five finalists submitted by children in a contest hosted by Oregon Wild, a conservation group.

Whether the name will stick in California remains to be seen. Patrick Valentino, Northern California director of the California Wolf Center, said his group does not object.

"The naming is important because education is key," said Valentino, whose group plans to help the livestock industry avoid conflict with the state's newest canine inhabitant. "The more people identify with this animal and see it as a symbol of what wolves will do, which is disperse and move around, then I think it's an educational tool and it brings attention to it."

This wolf's travels are the latest product of a successful wolf-reintroduction program begun by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1995 in Idaho and Montana.

Not everyone is thrilled by the new arrival, however.

Siskiyou County Supervisor Marcia Armstrong, when asked about wolves last week by the Los Angeles Times, said "we would like to see them shot on sight."

She would not repeat that sentiment when contacted by The Bee on Wednesday. But she said the new transient wolf is alarming to local residents, some of them cattle or sheep ranchers struggling to live off the land.

"It's unfair to ask people to live with this dangerous predator," she said. "It's romantic, maybe, for urban people. But this affects our quality of life. It affects when we go out to get mail from the mailbox: Do we have to carry a gun?"

One recent human fatality in Alaska was attributed to a wolf pack, but experts say that was unusual: Wolves seek to avoid people and pose little danger to public safety.

The new California wolf has not been seen by a single person on his trek, and is not known to have killed any livestock.

There is strong public interest in following Journey's journey, which has been publicized across the globe, most recently by media in Italy and Argentina clamoring for a copy of Daniels' trail camera photo.

Some readers who have contacted The Bee over the past week have asked whether the wolf's travels, as documented by its GPS collar, are charted anywhere on the Internet.

Stopher said the Department Fish and Game will not reveal the wolf's precise location in order to protect it from potential poachers. This was also the practice of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The wolf is protected by the federal Endangered Species Act.

Nevertheless, Stopher said the department plans to release educational information about wolves on its website this week, and may illustrate OR7's route in some way that does not endanger the animal.

The department also plans meetings with a spectrum of interest groups about wolf management. One of the first is a special meeting with the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors, planned for Tuesday, Armstrong said.

"The emotions will fly, because people either love wolves or hate wolves," said Valentino. "It's very difficult to get away from that. So we might as well dive in."

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