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OR-54 leaves Oregon — and she's taking her bling

A collared gray wolf apparently has skipped out on its Rogue Pack family and moved to California, taking with it its GPS-transmitting collar that gave biologists' the ability to track Southern Oregon's largest, most famous — and lately predatory — pack.

OR-54, a 2-year-old in April who is most likely one of the offspring of Rogue Pack patriarch OR-7, apparently crossed from Oregon into eastern Siskiyou County on or around Jan. 24, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

GPS coordinates show it has remained in California, suggesting she may be "dispersing," or striking out on her own in search of a mate or another pack, CDFW reported late Thursday.

Its departure means there are currently no Rogue Pack members fitted with an active GPS collar to track the pack's whereabouts. Using OR-54's collar, biologists were able to pin three livestock kills on the pack last month at a ranch between Prospect and Butte Falls.

"It's disappointing, particularly with the problems we've been having," says John Stephenson, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist in Bend. "We thought she might disperse. We were concerned about that when we collared her at 1½ (years old)."

OR-54's departure leaves the Rogue Pack officially at six animals, at least for now.

"We don't know if there are other wolves with her or precisely what's going on," says Steve Niemela, a wildlife biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife working on wolf issues that include the Rogue Pack. "We just know she's gone."

There also is a chance that OR-54 could imitate the previous travels of wolf OR-25, which made four documented trips into California but each time returned to Oregon, says Pete Figura CDFW's wildlife management supervisor in Redding.

OR-25, which also was collared, was found dead Oct. 29 in Klamath County, killed in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act as well as state wildlife laws. That case remains under investigation.

Biologists had to monitor the Rogue Pack without GPS information in summer 2018 when a battery died in OR-7's collar — the one that allowed the world to follow his famous and historic foray into Southern Oregon and Northern California in search of a mate before he found one and settled in eastern Jackson and western Klamath counties.

In 2014, OR-7 fathered the first wolf pack in southwestern Oregon in more than six decades. He and his mate also had litters each of the next three springs. OR-7 will turn 9 years old this spring. The average life span of wolves in the wild is 6 years, fish and wildlife statistics show.

Biologists will rely on trail cameras and public sightings to keep track of the pack, Stephenson says. He hopes to join ODFW biologists in capturing and collaring another Rogue Pack member in April or May, when the pack likely will den in its same eastern Jackson County haunts as previous years, he says.

Biologists wait until overnight temperatures climb above freezing in the trapping area to reduce injury threats to the captured wolf, Stephenson says.

OR-54's locations will continue to be tracked by the Fish and Wildlife Service as well as ODFW, which is sharing those GPS coordinates with its California counterparts as they monitor its movements in California.

OR-54 brings to six the number of known wolves in Northern California, including the five-wolf Lassen Pack that DNA tests prove was sired by one of OR-7's offspring, Figura says. At least one other black wolf has been seen in the past within the Lassen Pack territory, but it does not appear to be traveling with the pack, Figura says.

In all, OR-7 and three of its offspring now have been verified at some time in California, Figura says.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.