It was revealed on Monday that over the weekend, Journey, Oregon’s wandering wolf, crossed the border into California once again. He didn’t stay long before returning to the Southern Cascades of Oregon. Karen Kovacs, Wildlife Program Manager with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife reported that the wolf was following migrating deer and elk.
Dispersal is a normal behavior for wolves, although few travel as far or for as long as Journey. He has gone over 3,000 miles since leaving the Imnaha pack in the northeast corner of Oregon in September of 2011. I remember that time well. I left the same area a few weeks behind him after attending a rural writing retreat along the Imnaha River. Driving home, I watched for OR 7 (he hadn’t earned the name Journey yet) as I made the long trip back to southern Oregon. I didn’t see him of course, but it was wonderful thinking that the dispersing wolf might be traveling the same route I was.
And as it turned out, he did. We both meandered in a southwesterly direction, through the John Day Wilderness Area, west toward Bend, then due south, the wolf utilizing the land bridge of the Cascades to travel on. He entered western Oregon, outside of Roseburg, on November 1, 2011. And long after I was home, OR 7 wandered into my part of the state and has made this area his territory for the last ten months. Oregon Wild’s website has great details on Journey and his trip, including maps.
But Journey has been outdone. In the early 1990s, a wolf named Pluie (French for rain) far exceeded Journey’s travels. She dispersed over 45,000 miles in two years, roaming through Canada and the northwestern US. She traveled even further than this but her radio collar was damaged by a bullet (armor-good use for radio collars!) and stopped working. Sadly, she was fatally shot, along with her two pups, two years later in Canada.
(Addendum: I’ve been questioned about the distance traveled by Pluie. Taz Alago states that the wolf traveled within an area of 40,000 miles, which is much different from traveling that distance in a straight line. My source may need to correct herself as well, I’ll look into that. Go to the Y2Y site for details on Pluie. Thanks for noting this, Taz. I always appreciate it when someone catches me up on details–not my forte!)
What an amazing wolf! Pluie’s travels inspired the formation of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y), an organization dedicated to preserving connective places for animal migration.
Journey turns four next April and his GPS/VHF collar was placed in February of 2011, when he was a yearling. When I was in Joseph, Oregon last month I learned that the battery on Journey’s radio collar may last until the end of 2014, although the VHF capacity would continue after this. We asked Russ Morgan and Roblyn Brown at that meeting if there were plans to recollar Journey, to ensure the ability to keep track of him. The state wolf biologists explained that first of all, the decision would not be theirs because Journey is now under the jurisdiction of the USFWS, specifically wolf coordinator John Stephenson.
Secondly, Roblyn and Russ doubted that our interest level in this one lone wolf would warrant the effort, expense, and risk involved in locating, tranquilizing and recollaring Journey. Finding wild wolves is not easy. It involves a spotter plan and a helicopter, as well as a lot of staff people. And the people in the air sustain a high degree of risk, in bad weather especially.
The risk to the wolf is an issue as well. Remember that OR 7’s sister died shortly after she was tranquilized (at the same time as Journey). Nothing definitive was found in the autopsy but the timing infers that it may have been related to her capture. These things happen, usually due to no fault of the humans involved. I recall similar incidents in the zoo world, where I grew up. Despite the extreme caution my father (zoo director) and the veterinarians used, sometimes an animal went under and didn’t come out. It can go the other way too. Once, a leopard we believed to be completely sedated, woke up suddenly and attacked my dad. This was a large male cat, weighing at least 175 pounds. He was at our facility temporarily, so we didn’t know him and he didn’t know us, contributing to the problem. The leopard knocked my dad down and proceeded to work his sharp teeth through my father’s winter coat until a keeper (a former boxer and a fearless man) jumped in and inserted his steel-toed boot firmly into the big cat’s mouth, allowing my dad to escape. He sustained some serious bite wounds but was happy to be alive.
In a year or so Journey may become even more of a lone wolf, one that isn’t under constant observation via the computers of the Oregon or California Department of Fish and Wildlife Service. He’s been wise so far, staying away from livestock and dodging traffic on Interstate 5 and other main thoroughfares. But we’ll worry about him more when we don’t hear occasional reports, reassuring us that he’s OK out there, living his solitary wolf life.
This brief video, taken by ODFW staff, was taken in December of 2010.