A Central Point hunter with a trail camera in November gave the world its first and only known photograph of wolf OR-7, whose well-documented search for a mate has sent him on a record-setting journey through Oregon and Northern California.
Now the legions of OR-7 trackers worldwide can watch video footage of the radio-collared male wolf that was taped in May in Wallowa County by a Bend videographer before the animal started roaming and his story went viral.
Marc Bales was taping a segment with a "range rider" who tracks wolves for state and federal wildlife biologists when the tracker located the young wolf. Bales was able to capture images of the animal crossing a wire fence and loping through a pasture.
With the help of his son, a Southern Oregon University student, he created a 4-minute, 17-second video of the encounter.
In the video, the wolf is far away and the image is small, but experts say it's the real deal.
"It's kind of amazing," says Bales, who is documenting wolves in Wallowa County for a group called Oregon Wolf Education. "It was one of those rare cases when you happen to be in the right place at the right time."
State wolf biologists have seen the video and believe it to be legitimate, says Michelle Dennehy wolf program spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The range rider in the video is Will Voss, an ODFW employee who uses radio-telemetry equipment to track wolves from the so-called Imnaha Pack in hopes of minimizing conflicts with cattle ranchers there.
"The person providing the information that the wolf is OR-7 is ODFW's range rider and he would know as he has the equipment to detect the different radio collars," Dennehy said.
The 21/2-year-old OR-7 broke away from the Imnaha Pack on Sept. 10 in what biologists commonly call a "dispersing" quest to find a new home and a mate. While other Oregon wolves have stayed in northeast Oregon or ventured into Idaho, Or-7 headed southwest in a journey that has captured the imagination of readers and bloggers worldwide.
When he crossed the South Cascades and into Douglas County in November, he became the first known wolf west of the Cascade crest since a wolf was shot by a bounty hunter in Douglas County in 1946.
After milling around in eastern Jackson County and western Klamath County for more than a month, he crossed into Siskiyou County to become the first verified wolf in California since 1924.
The wolf has remained in California, wandering through Shasta County and parts of Lassen County before retracing his path and re-entering Shasta County on Saturday, according to the California Department of Fish and Game. Regular reports of OR-7's movements are posted at www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/nongame/wolf.
The animal's collar sends regular GPS readings to biologists via satellites, while VHF transmitters allow biologists on the ground to track its movement.
That's what Voss was doing in May — three months after the animal was collared — when Bales and Voss crossed paths, leading to the video footage.
The footage was part of reams of video Bales says he has shot in several months of chronicling ranchers' day-to-day interactions with these wolves.
Bales recently decided to go public with the images, so he and his son, Will Bales, a Southern Oregon University freshman, put together the short video and made it available publicly.
"We thought people would be interested in seeing OR-7," Bales says.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.