The Oregon-born wolf looking for a mate in the wilds of Northern California has moved to lower ground as winter approaches.
California Department of Fish and Game program manager Karen Kovacs said winter storms lashing the high country south of Lassen Peak have forced deer to lower elevations, and the wolf known as OR-7 has followed.
His satellite-tracking collar has shown him in oak-chaparral woodlands east of Red Bluff, Calif. Kovacs said this is his first foray into that habitat.
The wolf gained celebrity after leaving northeastern Oregon more than a year ago.
He journeyed hundreds of miles across eastern Oregon, down the Cascade Range to Northern California in search of a mate.
Shortly after he left, the state put a death sentence on two members of his pack for killing cattle, but that has been held up by a lawsuit brought by conservation groups.
He has managed to stay out of trouble and nearly out of sight. People have spotted him or his tracks only a few times.
Kovacs estimated that OR-7 weighs 100 to 110 pounds, with paws measuring 5-by-5 inches.
"He is feeding well, he is able to travel well," said Kovacs.
He has the distinction of being the only known wolf in California in nearly a century. When OR-7 crossed into California a year ago, Oregon had counted 29 wolves within state boundaries. That number has grown to 54 with a count of 25 new pups.
While in California, OR-7 switched from his normal prey of elk to deer, which are more available. He has not crossed major highways and has turned back several times when he came close to Interstate 5. He swam across the Klamath River several times, Kovacs said.
At 31/2 years, the wolf is now past the midpoint of a lifetime that normally spans five to seven years in the wild, and there have been no indications he has found that elusive mate.
Nick Cady, legal director for Cascadia Wildlands, an Oregon conservation group, said he was optimistic OR-7 would meet a female that had also gone to California.
The route OR-7 took is a natural backcountry migration corridor that conservation groups were specifically trying to preserve when they were fighting to add wilderness protections and stop clear-cutting, he said.
"It is promising to see that corridor functioning, and if it functions for one wolf, that means it will function for more wolves," he said.
The batteries on his GPS collar are expected to run out in a little more than a year. After that, his fate may be unknown.