A young wolf migrating out of a northeast Oregon pack this fall has reached northeastern Douglas County, becoming the first confirmed wolf in Western Oregon in 65 years.
The 2-year-old male, labeled OR-7, has a transmitter collar on it that showed it crossed Highway 97 and moved across the Cascade crest and into the Umpqua River drainage, where he was last located late Thursday, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The animal set out from his original Imnaha Pack of Wallowa County on Sept. 10, wandering southwest as far as Lake County last week before turning due west and crossing the Cascades, said Russ Morgan, the ODFW's wolf program coordinator.
"It's the first one in modern times to go in that direction, and he's really traveling," Morgan said. "He could turn around and go back. He could go to California or Idaho. There's no way to predict it."
It is the first wolf known to be in Western Oregon since 1946, when a wolf killed in Douglas County was the last Oregon wolf turned in under a bounty program.
Morgan said this wolf — a male born in Oregon in 2009 and collared last February — has traveled more than 250 miles so far on its dispersal journey, and there was no way to guess when or where this wolf version of fleeing the nest will end.
"It'll be interesting to see where he's going," Morgan said. "The best approach is you'll have to wait and see."
Most dispersing wolves travel alone, and there was no indication one way or another that OR-7 was joined by any other animals, but Morgan said there was a "high likelihood" other noncollared wolves have reached the Cascades.
Oregon has a minimum population of 23 confirmed wolves since the first wandered in from Idaho in 1999.
There was no state population estimate for the wolves, which are protected by state and federal laws here.
What reception this wolf gets in southwestern Oregon "depends on who you ask," said Duane Dungannon, spokesman for the Medford-based Oregon Hunters Association.
The OHA has opposed allowing wolves to establish themselves naturally in Oregon, maintaining that their potential impacts on big-game herds and the ranching industry outweigh any benefits.
"Our deer and elk populations suffer enough from cougar predation," Dungannon said. "It won't do local game herds any good to deal with wolves."
Spencer Lennard, project director of Big Wildlife, said the region should embrace this apex predator and let packs develop on public lands here.
Studies in some places show that wolves help keep animals such as deer and elk from grazing freely along creekside riparian areas and damaging fish habitat, Lennard said.
"I think they need to be supported," Lennard said. "They are critical ecological components to this land."
The collar on this particular wolf was designed to send a location message to a satellite every six hours, but the animal must be in an area with clear reception for that to occur, Morgan said. It is not uncommon to see days lapse between satellite connection with them, Morgan said.
Wolves have been documented to travel more than 1,000 miles during their dispersal, which is a natural event common to most wildlife, Morgan said.
The Umpqua Basin abuts the northeastern portions of the Rogue River Basin.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.