Famed Jackson County wolf OR-7 and his mate have added two new pups to their Rogue Pack in eastern Jackson County, but the wolf whose epic 2012 journey to find a mate drew international interest may be getting a bit long in the tooth, authorities say.
Trail cameras earlier this month captured images of two new pups that have boosted the Rogue Pack's total to as high as nine wolves, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The photo shows the two young pups ambling along what appears to be a Forest Service road. Biologists say only that the images were captured somewhere in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in eastern Jackson County.
Another trail-cam image shows OR-7, identified by his coloring and his long-failed GPS collar still around his neck, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist John Stephenson says.
"He looks pretty lean," Stephenson says. "The daily grind might be taking its toll on him."
At 7 years old, OR-7 already has lived past the average age of 6 for wolves in the wild, and he still looks "pretty strong," Stephenson says.
This marks the third straight year that OR-7 and his uncollared mate have had pups, Stephenson says. They had three in 2014, two last year and two this year, he says.
However, Oregon's wolf population is updated at the end of each calendar year, and last December only one of those pups was seen, says Michelle Dennehy, wolf program spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Dennehy adds that not seeing the older pups during the survey does not mean they did not survive.
As the Rogue Pack continues to expand, OR-7 and his brood apparently have remained free of involvement in any livestock depredation, Stephenson says.
"I'm proud of him," he says.
That's unlike Jackson County's other confirmed wolf, OR-33, a lone wolf known to frequent national forest land west of Howard Prairie, Stephenson says.
GPS waypoints from OR-33's collar helped confirm the killing of two goats on consecutive nights in early June near Grizzly Peak.
Since then "he seems to be staying out of trouble," Stephenson says.
ODFW also confirmed Thursday that two other collared wolves — OR-3 and OR-28 — have paired and had at least one pup this year.
OR-3 is an 8-year-old male originally from the Imnaha pack, the same pack that spawned OR-7, and OR-28 is a 3-year-old, radio-collared female originally from the Mount Emily pack.
The trio primarily roam in the Silver Lake and Fort Rock areas of western Lake County and eastern Klamath County and have been dubbed the Silver Lake wolves, according to ODFW.
A group of wolves is not considered a pack until there is evidence of at least four wolves traveling together in winter, according to ODFW.
ODFW and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also have evidence of three uncollared wolves in the Keno area of western Klamath County near the Jackson County line, as well as OR-25, a lone, male, collared wolf in Klamath County, Dennehy says.
That brings to 17 the estimated number of wolves in Southern Oregon, according to state and federal statistics.
ODFW's 2015 report issued in February set Oregon's official wolf tally at the end of last year at 110 animals, up 36 percent from 2014.
Oregon's wolves were not reintroduced in the state but dispersed into Oregon from Idaho. They are descendants of wolves originally captured in Canada and released in Yellowstone National Park and Idaho in the mid-1990s.
Early Oregon packs remained in northeastern Oregon until OR-7 famously changed all that.
OR-7 was a young member of Oregon's Imnaha pack in the far northeast corner of the state when he was collared in February 2011, eight months before he left the pack in a "dispersal" trek in search of a mate and new territory.
He traveled south and west, becoming the first wolf in Western Oregon since 1937 when he crossed the Cascade crest.
He later spent more than a year in Northern California, where he was the Golden State's first known wolf since 1924. His travels were followed by wolf enthusiasts in media accounts on several continents.
OR-7 eventually found his mate and in 2014 fathered the first wolf pack in southwestern Oregon in more than six decades.