While wolves were once common in Oregon, they were absent from the state between the 1940s and late '90s due to deliberate eradication of the animals. By 1999, wolves from Idaho began to make a home back in Oregon and the population grew to a minimum of 64 wolves in eight packs by 2013. The state adopted the "Wolf Conservation and Management Plan" in 2005 in order to facilitate the species' recovery in Oregon. While wolves have been delisted nationally as endangered, which removes some protections, they are still endangered in Oregon. While all of the known packs are the northeast portion of the state (pack territories are in Wallowa, Union, Baker and Umatilla counties), lone wolf OR-7 left the Imnaha pack in 2011 and journeyed southwest to finally settle in southeast Jackson County and southwest Klamath County.
After a journey that lasted hundreds of miles, OR-7 became the first wolf west of the Cascades in nearly 70 years.
"Wolves can often disperse pretty far," says Joseph Vaile, executive director for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. "They go in search of their habitat. They look for remote country."
Vaile says that, while the journey is miraculous, that he was able to find a mate is even more miraculous.
"She must have made quite the journey herself," he says.
OR-7's mate then gave birth to, at least, three pups in late April or early May.
What this means
While OR-7's pups may grow and form their own families, the wolf population here in Jackson County is still, partially, dependent on the packs in the northeast.
"It really depends on how the wolves are able to recover up there," Vaile says. "If the packs are able to grow, we might see more wolves disperse."
While Oregon lists wolves as endangered under the state Endangered Species Act, they are not listed federally. Vaile says that there is a plan to delist wolves throughout all of the contiguous states.
"It's concerning," he says. "Wolves are pretty resilient, but this may prevent recovery of wolves on the West Coast.
"Wolves do an incredible job regulating the ecosystem. It's really important to allow these top level carnivores to recover."