LOS ANGELES Like many out-of-state visitors, the lone gray wolf that trotted across the border has taken a liking to the Golden State.
He went back and forth between the two states a handful of times after his initial crossing into Siskiyou County in 2011. But since spring, the young male has remained in California, loping across forests and scrublands, up and down mountains and across rural highways in Californias sparsely populated northeast.
He has roamed as far south as Tehama County about halfway between the border and Sacramento searching for other wolves, and a mate.
I guess hes being the Lewis and Clark of wolves in California, said wolf advocate Amaroq Weiss.
State and federal biologists are using a tracking collar to follow OR7 his official designation and theyre impressed. Not only has he traveled more than 3,000 miles since leaving his pack in northeastern Oregon, hes demonstrated exceptional homing abilities.
He can find the same locations (after) weeks, sometimes a couple of months, coming back from a completely different direction, said Karen Kovacs, wildlife program manager for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Since summer, OR7 has spent most of his time in western Plumas and eastern Tehama counties. He seems to dine mostly on mule deer, following their seasonal migrations from mountains to lower elevations.
Fortunately for him, he has avoided people and livestock. The wolf was accused of killing a cow and her calf and some other livestock, but Kovacs said investigations found no evidence that OR7 was the culprit. The cow died giving birth to the calf, which was either born dead or died soon after birth and was then eaten by coyotes.
There have been many reported sightings of the 3-year-old wolf, but only a few have been confirmed. One was in November, when a man hunting with his daughter saw a single deer running from what appeared to be a wolf. The animal broke off the chase, looked in the direction of the hunters and trotted away.
The excited pair reported the sighting, and radio signals placed OR7 in the area. The timing, the behavior, the location; were pretty sure it was OR7, Kovacs said.
Although he has journeyed much farther from his home pack than is typical, OR7 is doing what young males do: searching for a mate and other wolves with which to form a pack. He returns to areas where he has left his scent, hoping to find signs of other wolves.
It is possible that other gray wolves without radio collars have crossed into Northern California from Oregon, where there are a number of packs. But biologists have found no evidence of them. Kovacs said the chances are slim that OR7 will find a mate in California.
But he has found food, remote country and appears to be healthy. Being an apex predator in a landscape that hasnt had one for a pretty long time hes got it pretty good right now, said Steve Pedery of Oregon Wild, an environmental advocacy group.
Regardless of whether OR7 stays in California, biologists expect more wolves to follow. The Fish and Wildlife Department intends to prepare a wolf management plan for the state.
Its a different environment in the Pacific Coast states than in the interior West, said Weiss, Northern California representative of the California Wolf Center.
OR7 was smart enough to come here instead of Idaho, Weiss said. The Pacific Coast may be the only area in the U.S. where wolves are allowed to survive and thrive.