National Geographic Young Explorer Jay Simpson is part of the Wolf OR-7 Expedition, a 1,200-mile adventure in the tracks of a wolf. Using an estimated GPS track of the lone Wolf OR-7, the team will mountain bike and hike across Oregon and Northern California. Their aim is to raise awareness of local strategies that make on-the-ground strides toward human and wolf coexistence in the region. Follow the full story at or7expedition.org or Facebook.com/or7expedition.
We couldn’t have more exciting news at the launch of our expedition—the famous wandering lone wolf is alone no more—as we begin our journey across Oregon and Northern California. It provides a whole new list of questions to carry with us as we begin our journey by trekking into the Eagle Cap Wilderness of the Wallowa Mountains.
“It’s an exciting turn of events in the story of Wolf OR-7, and underlines the question of what ecological and social changes can we expect, if any, with the westward return of wolves,” comments David Moskowitz, wildlife specialist and expedition team member.
The presence of the female wolf that joined Wolf OR-7 was confirmed using wildlife tracking cameras placed in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest by USFWS and ODFW. In combination with analysis of GPS movements recorded by Wolf OR-7’s GPS radio collar, it appears the two wolves have denned, and may have pups.
This breaking news update came as our expedition team arrived at base camp outside Bend, Oregon and readied to launch. We could hardly finish reading the news aloud before quickly asking our own questions. Below are some of our questions; send us your questions to our website.
Where did the female wolf come from?
At the moment, there is no public information to answer this question. It is likely that she comes from a wolf pack from Oregon, Idaho or Washington. We’ll learn her original pack and birth location once government biologists are able to sample her DNA from scat samples or during the routine documentation of newly collared wolves.
How did they find each other?
This is truly hard to imagine, and something our expedition team will try to fathom as we follow in Wolf OR-7’s footsteps for the next month. As our team member and wildlife specialist David Moskowitz put it, “it’s like two needles finding each other inside a haystack.” Oregon is a big landscape, and it is remarkable that they were able to locate each other.
One way the wolves could have found each other was scent marking, which is typically used to mark their territory in a landscape. They’ll use urine, feces, and scratching the ground to advertise their scent, and the markers can last for many weeks. Another behavior for wolves to find each other is by howling, which can be heard across an area up to 50 square miles.
If there are pups, what would they be doing right now?
If there are pups, which there very well could be, they would have been born in late April, making them just under a month old. Similarly to month-old house puppies, the wolves would be nursing with their mother and staying close to the den, playing together.
Is this evidence of Cascade mountains acting as a functional wildlife corridor?
Well, for two wolves to make it to southwestern Oregon within three years of each other, it at least shows that Wolf OR-7’s original dispersal may not have been an anomaly. As an expedition team, we will be observing and documenting indicators of landscape permeability, it’s ability to provide passage for animals. The easier animals experience traveling across a landscape, the more likely the land is able to sustain present levels of biodiversity. There are many organizations working towards improving the connections and permeability of habitats across the United States, including the Wildlands Network and Oregon Wild.
Where may there be other wolves that we don’t know about?
This is an impossible question to answer, hence it is a great question and a sign that that we are following a steep learning curve to understanding wolves’ returning to habitat they haven’t seen in decades.
Our quest is all about questions—you can send us your questions on our website. As we follow Wolf OR-7′s dispersal route, we will be searching for answers and learning about tools available to support coexistence from people who have direct experience of living with wolves.