A Literal Lone Wolf: The Journey of OR-7
Update, July 14, 2015: OR-7, the wandering wolf, is a proud father yet again! On July 9, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service posted on its Tumblr that biologists had evidence (in the form of “fresh pup scat”) that OR-7 and his mate had their second litter of pups this spring. The scat was found while collecting trail cameras which show footage of the now year-old pups from OR-7’s last litter playing in a clearing, confirming that the Rogue Pack survived the winter and continue to thrive. USFWS further states that efforts will continue this summer to collar a member of the Rogue Pack, as OR-7’s collar—which allowed the world to follow his epic journey in 2011 through its radio and GPS signals—is now only partially functioning.
Wolves haven’t been seen around Washington, D. C. in over a century, yet the Avalon Theatre was packed last week with people excited to hear the story of a lone wolf who traveled over a thousand miles. OR-7, a wandering wolf who has captured the hearts and minds of thousands of people all over the world, is the subject of a new documentary detailing his epic journey across Oregon and into California, a state where a wolf hasn’t been spotted in more than 90 years.
There were once as many as two million wolves calling North America home, but by the 1980s, only a few small pockets of survivors remained in the lower 48 states. OR7: The Journey is a documentary that follows a radio-collared wolf that leaves his family, the Imnaha Pack in northeast Oregon, in search of a new home and new territory to call his own.
Although they are highly social animals, individual wolves are known to strike out on their own to find mates and create new packs, which is exactly what OR-7 did. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife tracked his movements as he ventured into various wilderness areas that hadn’t felt the presence of a wolf in nearly a century. The large, tan and black-haired wolf made his way through the Soda Mountain Wilderness, Klamath Basin, Sky Lakes Wilderness, Crater Lake and the Umpqua National Forest, where Oregon’s last wolf was killed before they gained the protections in the state they have today. In December of 2011, OR-7 made it to California, becoming the first known wild wolf to set a paw in the state since 1924.
The story of OR-7 is particularly incredible against the backdrop of what wolves have endured throughout modern U.S. history. From the time Europeans planted their flag on American soil, people have regarded wolves with a mix of wonder and disdain. Those that fear the wolf historically have outshouted those that believe the wolf is an important part of the ecosystem. Thus, the wolves have been hunted, poisoned and shot at from helicopters as part of questionable and often illegal management practices, or simply for sport or out of needless fear. It wasn’t until the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973 and wolves were listed in 1978 that this ecologically important species began getting the respect (and protections) it deserves. Since the early 1980s, wolf recovery in America has had some great successes, from the reintroduction of wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains, to the revitalization of populations in the western Great Lakes states.
However, the resurgence of the wolf has been short-lived. There are still few, if any, wolves in the vast majority of their former range. Suitable wolf habitat remains in places like the southern Rocky Mountains and the Northeast. But in 2011, members of Congress bowed to political pressure from hunting and other special interests and included a wolf-focused policy “rider” in a must-pass government funding bill. That rider removed federal protections for wolves in Idaho and Montana and barred any judicial review of that decision. This shady move was a huge blow to wolves that were only just beginning to make a comeback. Even worse, yet another wolf-focused policy rider currently threaten wolves and their recovery in the lower 48 states.
Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have included wolf delisting riders in their versions of must-pass spending bills to fund the Department of the Interior and Environmental Protection Agency. These riders would remove federal protections for wolves in Wyoming and the Midwest (including Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin). If successful, these riders would overturn recent federal court decisions that found that wolf management plans in these states did not adequately protect wolves (more on Earthjustice’s court victory for wolves in Wyoming is here).
OR-7 remained elusive throughout his great journey to California, with only one known eyewitness account. A combination of remote camera photographs, scat samples and tracking by biologists have provided some insight into what he’s been up to since. OR-7 went back and forth between California and Oregon before finding a mate in Oregon in 2014, over two years after he set out on his journey. They now have a litter of pups, and a second litter could arrive soon. The new family has been named the Rogue Pack and is the first established pack in western Oregon since the early 1900s. As the world watches with bated breath for more updates, members of groups associated with the documentary warned us that as we speak, OR-7’s radio collar is emitting low battery signals and could soon shut off, severing our primary connection to this celebrity wolf.
As was demonstrated by OR-7’s amazing journey, wolves are not bound by state lines. Removing federal protections in any state is a blow to wolves everywhere. To help wolves like OR-7 continue to rebound, take action to protect wolves from politically-motivated attacks and call your U.S. Representative today.
About this series
2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the reintroduction of gray wolves to the northern Rockies, and since that time wolves have been under nearly constant threat of losing their protections. The Weekly Howl provides insights and education about the gray wolf and updates on the status of its protections while celebrating the iconic species as a vital part of a functioning, healthy ecosystem. Posts will appear every Wednesday starting June 17 and running through the summer.
Don’t miss last week’s post: “Some Unsolicited Advice for George R. R. Martin: Watch the Wolves.”