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OR-7 returns to Oregon after nearly a year in California

The wandering lobo known as OR-7 is back in his native Oregon after nearly a year traversing Northern California in search of a new home and a mate.

The GPS-collared gray wolf apparently crossed the California border into western Klamath County sometime Tuesday evening, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Originally from Eastern Oregon's Imnaha pack, OR-7 in 2011 became the first documented wolf in 65 in Western Oregon, where they were extirpated to curb livestock damage.

Last winter he toggled between Southern Oregon and Northern California before becoming the Golden State's first documented wolf since 1924.

"This is not a surprise," ODFW wolf program spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy said. "He has come back before.

"We're not predicting what he's going to do next," Dennehy said Wednesday. "He might be back in California now for all we know."

The nomadic gray wolf dispersed from Northeast Oregon's Imnaha Pack in the fall of 2011 and didn't follow others wolves that found new territory in Eastern Oregon or traveled to Idaho or Washington.

His southwesterly trek was the first known since wolves returned to Oregon from Idaho more than a decade ago, and his wanderlust search for a mate last winter became a story followed on five continents.

For most of the past year, he's traveled around northeastern California, most recently in the western Modoc County area, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

On March 6, however, he made a beeline north and traveled about 60 air miles before reaching Klamath County, said USFWS biologist John Stephenson in Bend.

"It's very different movement than what he's been doing for a while in California," Stephenson said. "He just decided to bust a move."

And no one knows why, or if he's even alone, Stephenson said. However, wolves have been known to abruptly leaves area in winter or early spring, he said.

"Even whole packs will go on a walkabout," Stephenson said.

The GPS transmitter on a collar was fitted on him as a pup in Eastern Oregon in February 2011, and its life expectancy is three years, Stephenson said.

"That one, obviously, has been a pretty reliable collar," Stephenson says.

OR-7's return puts to 47 the number of documented gray wolves in Oregon, and he remains the only one of them not in Northeast Oregon, according to the ODFW.

The six known packs are all breeding pairs, the most recorded in Oregon since their return, Dennehy said.

Gray wolves are protected here under both the state and federal Endangered Species Acts, making it illegal to harm or harass it.

Unlike other members of the Imnaha pack, OR-7 has never been associated with livestock kills during his time in Oregon and California.

The service announced OR-7's change of address early Wednesday.

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