Oregon's famous lone wolf appears to have found a mate.
OR-7, born into the Imnaha pack in 2009 but on the move since 2011, is likely paired up with a female black wolf in the southwest Cascade Mountains, according to the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife.
Remote cameras in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest captured several images of the female in the same area where OR-7 is currently located. GPS collar data from OR-7 also indicates the two wolves may have denned, according to wolf biologist John Stephenson with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"This information is not definitive, but it is likely that this new wolf and OR-7 have paired up," Stephenson said in an announcement released Monday. "If that is correct, they would be rearing pups at this time of year."
Wildlife biologists won't be able to confirm the presence of pups until June or later, when the earliest pup surveys are conducted. Wolf pups are generally born in mid-April, and the department does not want to disturb them at such a young age.
If pups are found, it would be the first known wolf breeding in the Oregon Cascades since the early 20th century. That has wildlife advocates excited about the ongoing recovery of a locally endangered species.
"For people who appreciate the story of wolves and wolf recovery, the news doesn't get much bigger than this," said Rob Klavins, northeast Oregon field coordinator for Oregon Wild in Enterprise. "It certainly is historic."
Wolves throughout Oregon are protected by the state Endangered Species Act, while wolves west of highways 395-78-95 are also federally protected. Most of the state's 64 known wolves reside in northeast Oregon.
OR-7 left the Imnaha pack of Wallowa County nearly three years ago in search of new territory and a mate. On Dec. 28, 2011, he became the first wolf to cross into California since 1924. Since March 2013, he has spent the majority of his time in the southwest Cascades.
ODFW and the USFWS will continue to monitor the area and gather additional information on the pair using cameras, DNA samples collected from scat and pup surveys when appropriate.
"This latest development is another twist in OR-7's interesting story," said Russ Morgan, ODFW wolf coordinator.
While not the longest a wolf has ever traveled, the journey of OR-7 continues to capture people's imaginations. A team of conservationists and adventurers is preparing to retrace the 1,200-mile path from the Eagle Cap Wilderness all the way to Mount Shasta in northern California. That trip will begin May 17.
Meanwhile, local ranchers have expressed increasing frustration as they struggle to protect their livestock from wolf attacks. In order for wolves to be delisted from the state endangered species list, wildlife managers first need to observe four breeding pairs for three consecutive years -- each with two pups that survive through the end of the year.
Oregon is now one year away from meeting that requirement, hitting the benchmark in 2012 and 2013.
Contact George Plaven at email@example.com or 541-564-4547.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.