Can Legendary Wolf OR-7 Save His Endangered Species?

OR-7 has inspired activists worldwide. His 17 pups have moved across Southern Oregon and Northern California. Unwittingly, he has done more for his species than any other wolf.
TOC_01 Source: Illustration by Dieter Braun

John Stephenson cups his mouth and lets out a long, sorrowful howl. “Ow ow owwww!” his cries echo into the Rogue River–Siskiyou National Forest. “Owwww!”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official is performing a “howling survey” in search of the world’s most famous wolf, who goes by the diminutive name OR-7. It’s May, and Stephenson is standing beside a logging road, deep in the woods outside Prospect, Oregon, hoping for a response, which never comes. The lanky wildlife biologist has also positioned trail cameras in the bush, strapped to grand fir trees and triggered by animals as they pass. But as he scrolls through 1,400 images, he finds only bears, bobcats and deer. OR-7 and his pack must be somewhere on the other side of these mountains, in search of a meal.

Such tracking methods are antiquated, but the more effective approach died three years ago, in the GPS-equipped collar that still hangs from OR-7’s neck. The gray Canis lupus became famous in 2011, after he left his pack in the northeastern corner of Oregon and traveled 1,200 miles from home—over mountain ranges, beneath interstate overpasses, through the volcanic terrain of Lassen National Forest in Northern California—in search of a mate. He was the first confirmed wolf to enter the Golden State since 1924.

OR-7’s border crossing changed policy in California and inspired thousands of followers worldwide. His 17 pups have moved across Southern Oregon and Northern California, helping wolves populate every region of Oregon except the coast. Unwittingly, he has done more for his species than any other wolf, and for that he is as reviled by cattle ranchers as he is celebrated by conservationists.

Wolves were added to the federal endangered species list in 1974. But the more their numbers grow, the louder the complaints from

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