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OR-7 still in Oregon, still lonely

Wandering wolf OR-7 is spending his second week back from California in Jackson County, where he's been feeding on a dead elk as he continues his apparent search for a mate.

The 4-year-old wolf crossed the Cascade crest into Jackson County on March 19, his first trip back here since he left April 1, 2012, on the way to a much-publicized tour of Northern California.

Since his return, he's wandered along the western Cascades east of Butte Falls and Prospect and has shared meals on a dead cow elk with at least one coyote and some ravens, says Mark Vargas, Rogue District wildlife biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Vargas last week used a VHF receiver to follow the radio-transmitter that has been fitted on OR-7's collar. Vargas was able to get close enough to register a strong signal, but he never actually saw the only confirmed wolf in Western Oregon since 1937.

But Vargas did find fresh wolf tracks in the snow.

"But it was just a single set of tracks," Vargas says. "He's alone."

The tracks led to the carcass of a mostly picked-over cow elk. Coyote and raven tracks were also noted nearby, Vargas says.

"It was an interesting find," he says.

The elk likely died on its own during the winter and probably was not killed by OR-7, he says.

"There's no indication that he killed it," Vargas says. "There was no sign of a struggle."

Vargas installed a game camera and trained it on what's left of the carcass. He had previously set other cameras in that same area as part of a Pacific fisher study.

"I'm hoping he gets in front of one of those things," Vargas says. "I'm hoping to get a picture."

A game camera placed by a Central Point hunter in the woods east of Butte Falls gave the world its first glimpse of OR-7 in November 2011. A handful of other photographs subsequently have been taken of OR-7, including a set of grainy images captured March 6 along Highway 139 in Modoc County.

This past week, OR-7 has stayed in somewhat familiar territory for him, Vargas says. The wolf crossed into Jackson County from Klamath County in the same general corridor he's used in the past. He then headed north into the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, hovering around the 4,000-foot elevation, Vargas says.

OR-7, which dispersed from the Imnaha pack in Eastern Oregon in fall 2011, has spent most of the past year wandering around Northern California and even approached the Nevada border before turning north and west and returning to Oregon on March 12.

OR-7's return brings to 47 the number of confirmed wolves in Oregon.

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