• On the Trail with Journey •
BY ANNE SOBLE
Having grown up around sport hunters, I must acknowledge no small amount of concern every time I receive an online news alert about "Journey," aka OR-7, the solo young male gray wolf from an Oregon pack who ventured into California on his own late last year and has achieved iconic status in the environmental and biological diversity community.
There are those—including a whole town whose civic leaders were ready to vote for a law allowing the wolf to be shot on sight, even though wolves are federally protected—who want Journey as a trophy. Too many late-night readings of Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs; and, more importantly, denial of the fact that shoddy animal husbandry practices claim more livestock than wolves ever did, or could, have addled these folks' brains.
Although the return of a decimated species is a cause for celebration in its own right, there will be no fireworks until the wolf rock star has found a mate with which to set up housekeeping and establish territorial boundaries. In the interim, pack animals love company, and OR-7 has decided that he'll settle for group time with other canids, if that's all that crosses his path.
The ostensibly healthy and well fed—without having to dine on live ranching stock—wolf has been seen with small groups of comparably sized coyotes. The animals have the same diet, hunting styles and sports, and just like the domestic family canine, they play tag and roughhouse for fun.
On May 8, a California Department of Fish and Game biologist spotted Journey and took the first photo of the wolf in California—in Modoc County in the northeastern corner of the state.
The biologist and other wildlife observers were visiting ranchers in the area to notify them that GPS signals showed the gray wolf was in the vicinity, when they happened to look around a vista point with binoculars and there was Journey looking at them.
The wolf kept his distance from the surprised observers but paused long enough for DFG to obtain visible proof of his presence and apparent good health.
OR-7 left the Imnaha pack in northeastern Oregon last September, shortly before that state was preparing to dispatch his sire and another offspring for killing cattle. That action remains on hold pending litigation by conservation groups. These wolves are descendants of animals introduced into the Northern Rockies in the 1990s that headed west and grew in ranks to over 1500.
Journey traveled down the Cascade Range in winter and crossed the border into California in December, making him the first wolf in the state in nearly a century. He went back to Oregon for a quick visit and returned to California, where he appears content to stay.
State biologists will continue to closely monitor OR-7, with the help of his GPS collar, which remains securely attached. As long as that device monitors his well-being, everyone eager to see Journey's journey be a safe one can anticipate uninterrupted news alerts.