Every six hours since February, 2011, a high-tech collar has sent Oregon Fish and Wildlife officials the position of a male wolf named OR7 but better known to Cascadians as the "Lone Wolf." Over the last three years, OR7 has wandered some 1,200 miles, visiting most of the state and becoming the only free-roaming wolf to enter California since 1924. Last week, officials announced that the Lone Wolf's collar, which has a three-year battery life, will not be replaced. That marks the end of an era for fans of the local hero and the end of the trail for a group of adventurers gearing up to re-trace OR7's epic journey.
The team, which plans to shoot a Kickstarter-funded documentary, includes wildlife tracker David Moskowitz, filmmaker Daniel Byers, National Geographic Young Explorer Jay Simpson, conservation ecologist Galeo Saintz, and outdoor educator Rachael Pecore-Valdez. Their plan? Walk between eight and 15 miles a day and bike an additional 30 to 60 miles while following a slightly more direct version of OR7's meandering trail. "This is an opportunity to engage people in a conversation about wildlife and wild lands in the twenty-first century," says Moskowitz. "If the expedition has a theme, it's how wolves and other large carnivores co-exist with modern humans and how humans can make that work."
Moskowitz, the author of Wolves in the Land of Salmon, is quick to point out that wolves aren't especially dangerous, but remain a feared and misunderstood animal by people more versed in fairy tales than behavioral science. Wolves like OR7 that don't stick with a pack are naturally skittish, but also curious. They are around, but actually seeing one is incredibly rare.
Pecore-Valdez, who hatched the idea, is quick to say that she doesn't expect to actually find OR7. "I'm from Oregon and OR7's journey across the state was big news," she says, adding that after moving to Germany for a year she became interested in the Grimm fairy tales and the fear of big-eared, big-teethed, big-nosed killers waiting in the woods. She wants to tell a positive story about wolves and OR7 is a likable protagonist.
Since Fish and Wildlife started tracking the Lone Wolf, he has never joined a pack, killed livestock, or even mated. One of only 64 wolves in Oregon – up from one in 2008 – OR7's difficulty finding companionship is completely understandable. It's impossible to know if he never joined a pack because he never wanted to or because he never really had the opportunity.
"Wolves give me hope," says Pecore-Valdez. And good thing too: She's got 1,200 miles to go, even more if the Lone Wolf sets off on another expedition before blinking one last time on the radar and finally disappearing for good.