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Southern Oregon's wandering wolf may get a new name

The first wolf confirmed in southwest Oregon in 65 years continues to move south and is still skirting Jackson County while some wolf supporters are trying to find it a better name.

Already dubbed OR-7 by state and federal biologists keeping tabs on it via an electronic transmission collar, the wolf on Thursday remained in western Klamath County south of Crater Lake, says spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

After spending much of the past week toggling between Klamath and Douglas counties while crisscrossing the Cascade crest, the wolf has headed south and west while remaining recently east of Jackson County, Dennehy said.

Dennehy said the agency will not divulge exact Global-Positioning System readings because it is a species protected as endangered by state and federal law.

Lands south of Crater Lake include national park land as well as pieces of the Sky Lakes Wilderness Area of the Fremont-Winema National Forest.

The Portland-based group Oregon Wild on Thursday launched a two-part contest for kids and teenagers to suggest names for OR-7 and an art contest for kids to draw, paint or color pictures of the wolf and its journey.

Though he was fitted with a collar last winter, no public photos exist of OR-7.

The contests are available through the Oregon Wolves page on Facebook and through Oregon Wild's website, where the group will collect possible names through Dec. 16 before asking the public to vote on people's favorite name.

"It's our hope that by getting more people informed and engaged in wolf recovery, OR-7 will be safer from those folks who might be tempted to kill an unknown and anonymous wolf," said Rob Klavins, Oregon Wild's wildlife advocate.

The Medford-based Oregon Hunters Association, which has opposed Oregon's wolf-management approach in part because of their predation on deer and elk herds, called the contest an attempt to glorify and romanticize wolves' return to Oregon.

"The wildlife enthusiasts who have documented these imported predators' decimation of native deer and elk populations in the Rockies and the residents in northeast Oregon who have witnessed their domestic animals being ravaged by wolves can paint you a very different picture," OHA spokesman Duane Dungannon said.

"I think the 4-H kids in Wallowa County who have had their animals torn apart by wolves should be invited to enter the contests," he said.

Born in Oregon in 2009 and collared last February, OR-7 was part of the Imnaha pack in Wallowa County and split from that pack Sept. 10 in what biologists called dispersing, the wolf's version of leaving the nest.

So far, it has traveled more than 300 miles on its journey and there was no way to guess when or where the trip will end, biologists say. It is one of 23 known wolves in Oregon since they wandered into northeast Oregon from Idaho in the late 1990s.

The last confirmed wolf in western Oregon was shot and killed for a bounty in 1946 in Douglas County.

Most dispersing wolves travel alone and there was no indication whether he was joined by any other animals, but biologists have said there was a "high likelihood" other noncollared wolves have reached the Cascades.

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