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OR-7 skirts over I-5 near Yreka, returns to Oregon

Wandering gray wolf OR-7, perhaps the most famous resident of the mythical State of Jefferson, has been busy this spring.

The 4-year-old collared wolf has spent the past six weeks traveling in and out of Jackson County, venturing into eastern Douglas County and then earlier this week returning briefly to California, where he flirted with Interstate 5 traffic for the first time.

GPS equipment on his collar shows that, while in Northern California this week, he crossed west over I-5 near Yreka, Calif. — venturing the farthest west he's gone in his 19-month odyssey, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Then just as quickly, he jumped I-5 again, biologists said Thursday.

"Hopefully, he'll stop doing that," says John Stephenson, a USFWS biologist tracking OR-7 from his Bend office. "That's not a good strategy for longevity."

On Wednesday, the wolf headed back north, crossing into southeastern Jackson County, and on Thursday morning he was in the hills south of Emigrant Lake east of Ashland, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Each time he enters California, OR-7 reclaims his status as the only known gray wolf in the Golden State since 1924. And when he slips back into Jackson County, he becomes the first known gray wolf west of the Cascades since the last one was shot in 1937 to protect livestock.

"Man, that wolf can travel," says Mark Vargas, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Rogue District wildlife biologist.

"The distances he's covering are amazing. He could be back in Siskiyou County (California) as we speak."

OR-7 also toggled between Southern Oregon and Northern California last spring before crossing into California for what turned into an 11-month walkabout in his search for a new home territory and a mate.

That trek took him nearly as far east as Nevada, then he did an about-face and retraced his steps back into Jackson County on March 12.

But don't read anything into these latest movements, Vargas warns.

"Who knows where he's going?" Vargas wonders.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com.