By Bettina Boxall Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — The wandering gray wolf that last year became the first wild wolf recorded in California since the 1920s crossed the border Thursday and headed back to his home state of Oregon.
The young male, nicknamed Journey by a conservation group, entered California in late December, attracting international intention. He remained on the move, trotting nearly 1,000 miles in three Northern California counties, crossing highways, pine forests, scrubland and even ancient lava flows.
Biologists say OR7, as the animal is officially known, is doing what young wolves do: setting out on its own to find a mate, establish a new pack or perhaps join another one. Having apparently accomplished none of that in the Golden State, he headed north. At midnight Thursday readings from his GPS collar placed him in Jackson County, Ore.
“There’s just no place like home,” tweeted one of his followers. “Back in Oregon where there’s no sales tax. Outlet mall here I come!” tweeted another.
Where the wolf will go next is anyone’s guess. He could just as easily lope back to California as remain in Oregon. “He was predictable in his unpredictability,” said Karen Kovacs, a wildlife program manager for the California Department of Fish and Game.
She said biologists were astonished at the animal’s ability to return to areas he had visited and marked with urine. And while it is not uncommon for young males to travel long distances when in “dispersal,” Kovacs said this wolf’s marathon meanderings stood out.
Since he left his home pack in northeastern Oregon last September, OR7 has traveled more than 2,000 miles as measured in straight lines on a map — meaning that in actuality, he has covered far more ground. “Just incredible,” Kovacs said.
The wolf traversed private ranch land and public lands in Siskiyou, Shasta and Lassen counties. Kovacs said there are no confirmed photographs of the animal in California. But based on satellite data, her department believes one — and possibly — two people photographed its saucer-sized paw prints and another two may have caught brief glimpses of him in the state.
Most of the reported wolf sightings, which came from as far south as Sonoma County, were large dogs or coyotes. “We got sightings of wolves all over the place,” Kovacs said.
Although OR7’s home pack has killed livestock in Oregon, he stuck to wild prey in California. Kovacs said he was not connected to any livestock losses and biologists found evidence that he had dined on deer carcasses.
Hunted, trapped and poisoned, gray wolves disappeared from California nearly 90 years ago. After they were successfully reintroduced to the northern Rockies in the 1990s and started spreading West, biologists say it was just a matter of time before one showed up in California. But it could be years before the state can boast an established pack.
(c)2012 the Los Angeles Times
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services