The World’s Loneliest Wolf Is Now the Leader of His Own Pack

OR7 has found a mate and settled in Oregon after crossing into California, but the growing gray wolf population could provoke a backlash.

Two of OR7’s pups, photographed in Oregon. (Photo: Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Jan 9, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Todd Woody is TakePart's editorial director, environment.

After an epic journey that made him the world’s most famous, if lonesome, wolf, OR7 is now officially the leader of his own pack.

Wildlife officials this week designated OR7, also known as Journey, as the leader of the Rogue Pack in western Oregon, where the gray wolf settled after crossing back and forth into California from Oregon. In late 2011, OR7 became the first gray wolf in the Golden State since the last of his species was exterminated there in the 1920s.

The Rogue Pack is a small gang, consisting of OR7, his mate, and perhaps three of their offspring. But it signals that wolves are on the rise in Oregon.

Ironically, that could lead to the removal of some protections for the wolves if four breeding pairs produce pups for three consecutive years, according to Michelle Dennehy, a spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

OR7 in Oregon. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

If the births are confirmed, the wildlife department could give ranchers more leeway to shoot wolves that kill cattle and other livestock.

“One change is that ODFW could consider lethal control of wolves after two confirmed depredations of livestock, rather than the current four,” Dennehy said in an email.

But it wouldn’t be open season on wolves. “Livestock producers still need to be using nonlethal methods and not attracting wolves to their property in the next phase of management,” she added.

The reintroduction of gray wolves in the West and the Midwest after their near extinction has provoked a harsh backlash from ranchers, who have successfully lobbied to have endangered species protections lifted and hunts reinstated. (Coyotes, dogs, mountain lions, and other animals, however, kill far more livestock than wolves, according to federal government statistics.)

If the wildlife department concludes that at least four of the Oregon’s nine wolf packs have reproduced successfully for three years running, it could take steps to take the animal off the state endangered species list. But Dennehy said state officials would also have to prove that the wolf was not in danger of extinction, its range had not become constricted, and that other state and federal regulations were sufficient to protect the species.

Dennehy said 2014 was the third consecutive year that at least four packs produced offspring.

“In fall we knew of reproduction in eight packs; don’t know yet how many of those packs had pups survive through end of year,” she said.

Regardless of what happens, OR7 and the Rogue Pack will remain protected as long as they stay close to the coast. Dennehy said federal endangered species regulations would continue to apply to gray wolves in western Oregon regardless of what action the state takes.

OR7 could always bring the Rogue Pack to California. Officials there last year extended state endangered species protection to gray wolves after OR7 made another foray into Northern California.