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Endangered Wolf’s 8,700-Mile Journey Ends in Tragedy

Animals
OR-54 at one-and-a-half years old. USFWS

One endangered gray wolf's incredible journey has ended in tragedy.


A lone female wolf had traveled more than 8,700 miles in nearly two years through California, Oregon and Nevada in search of a mate before her radio collar went silent in December 2019, The New York Times reported. Then, California Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists received an influx of data from her collar indicating she had stopped moving in California's Shasta County. On Feb. 5, they located her.

"Unfortunately, what they found was her carcass," department spokeswoman Jordan Traverso told The New York Times.

The female, named OR-54, was an important symbol for the return of wolves to California. Her father, OR-7, was the first wolf to enter California in around 100 years when he crossed south from Oregon in 2011. The event helped inspire California's Fish and Game Commission to vote to protect wolves under the state Endangered Species Act in 2014, The Washington Post pointed out.

OR-7 returned to Oregon to establish the Rogue Pack, but his offspring, who was fitted with a radio collar in Oregon in 2017, headed south again on Jan. 24, 2018 when she crossed into California to begin her journey. She spent most of the next two years in the state, despite two return trips to Oregon and one sojourn to Nevada. In California, she wandered through Butte, Lassen, Modoc, Nevada, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Shasta and Tehama counties, The Sacramento Bee reported. As of December, she had traveled at least 8,712 miles, averaging 13 miles a day.

"After the arduous journey wolves have had to get back to California, the loss of any wolf is a step back for wolf recovery," Defenders of Wildlife senior California representative Pamela Flick said in a statement. "OR-54 traveled more than 8,700 miles, from Oregon to California and even into Nevada and was a symbol of hope for the next generation of wolves."

The average wolf travels 50 to 100 miles to find a mate, so OR-54's odyssey was "extraordinarily long," Misi Stine, outreach director at the International Wolf Center in Minnesota, told The New York Times.

"She's going to be one of those ones who people say, 'Wow, she was exceptional,' because we know her story," Stine said.

The circumstances of her death are being investigated. OR-54 was three or four when she died, and Center for Biological Diversity wolf advocate Amaroq Weiss told The Washington Post that most lone wolves only live to be four or five. They are vulnerable to attacks by other wolf packs, defensive kicks from elks, or human attacks. OR-54 did have potential human enemies, because she was suspected in at least five livestock attacks in Plumas County, according to The Sacramento Bee.

"We hope OR-54 died a natural death and wasn't killed illegally," Weiss said in a statement. "The return of wolves is a major environmental milestone in our state, and the vast majority of Californians want to see wolves recovered here."

There are 15 to 20 wolves now living in California, according to official estimates reported by The New York Times. The Trump administration has proposed stripping gray wolves of federal Endangered Species Act protections in the lower 48 states, but Weiss told The Washington Post that those protections had been essential for wolf recovery in places like California.

"We'd never have wolves coming back to California, coming to Oregon, if they hadn't been listed for federal protections," she said.

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