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OR-7's wanderlust sends him back toward Oregon border

Wandering wolf OR-7 is retracing his steps through Northern California and Tuesday was in howling distance of Southern Oregon.

OR-7's transmitter collar showed the nearly 3-year-old male was in northeast Siskiyou County, about 10 miles from the border he crossed Dec. 28 during his long and public trek to find a mate.

The lone wolf has traveled more than 40 miles a day on occasions since beginning from remote northeast Oregon on Sept. 10.

"Whether he crosses into Oregon, we don't know," says Michelle Dennehy, spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's wolf program. "He could turn right back."

The wolf spent the better part of a month in Lassen County in northeastern California, traveling almost to the Nevada border.

A week ago he was in southeastern Shasta County, but he abruptly headed north and showed up Monday morning in Siskiyou County, according to the California Department of Fish and Game.

Biologists on both sides of the Oregon-California border are awaiting this morning's satellite reports to see whether OR-7 leaves California.

If he does slip over the border, he will once again be tracked daily by biologists from ODFW, as well as by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Oregon. That work, since Dec. 28, has fallen to biologists in California.

"I'm not going to predict where he'll go next, but it's interesting that he seems to be coming this way," says USFWS biologist John Stephenson, who tracked OR-7 during the animal's time in Southern Oregon.

"Your guess is as good as mine, but it kind of has that look to it," Stephenson says.

Since leaving Northeast Oregon, OR-7 has covered well more than 1,000 miles. His historic journey — he was the first confirmed wolf in Western Oregon in 65 years and the first confirmed wolf in California since 1924 — has captured the imaginations of readers and viewers on five continents.

While OR-7 has been on the road, other members of his former Imnaha pack have been in the news, as well. The pack has been linked to livestock killings, which led to legislative skirmishes and court battles between conservation groups and ODFW over whether the wolves should be shot under the state's wolf management plan.

Since he was collared Feb. 26, 2011, OR-7 has not been implicated in any livestock losses, Dennehy says.

(Correction: The date OR-7 was collared has been corrected in this article.)

"We're pleased he hasn't gotten into any trouble with livestock," Stephenson says. "I hope this trend continues."

Should the wolf's taste turn from deer and elk to cows — like some of his infamous siblings — his future will depend upon where he is.

In the western two-thirds of Oregon, wolves are managed as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act by the USFWS, which has killed wolves over livestock damage in states outside of Oregon.

In the eastern third of Oregon, wolves are not listed under the federal ESA. But they are listed as endangered under Oregon's version of the Endangered Species Act and are managed by ODFW through its wolf plan, which calls for killing wolves linked to repeated livestock losses after non-lethal preventive measures have failed.

"If he comes back the way he came, he's still protected by state and federal law," Dennehy says. "Management hasn't changed."

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