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OR-7, Rare Gray Wolf That Crossed Into California, Likely Photographed (PHOTOS)

JEFF BARNARD   01/04/12 05:38 PM ET  AP

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — A young male gray wolf that wandered hundreds of miles across Oregon and eventually crossed into California as he searched for a mate has apparently been photographed for the first time.

The black-and-white photo shows a wolf sniffing the ground in a stand of dense forest. It is likely the animal known as OR-7, said Roblyn Schneider Brown, an Oregon state biologist.

The photo was taken Nov. 14 by an automatic trail camera set up by a hunter tracking blacktail deer on public land east of Butte Falls. Brown said the wolf in the photo appeared to be wearing a tracking collar, and GPS data showed that OR-7 was in the same area of the Cascades in southern Oregon around that time.

Though the 2-year-old wolf was captured and fitted with the collar by a state biologist last spring, OR-7 was not photographed. The animal made headlines last month when it wandered into the southern Cascade Range, becoming the first wolf in southwestern Oregon since 1946. Last week, he crossed into California, which has not seen a wolf in more than 80 years.

Tracking data on Wednesday showed the wolf was staying out of trouble in a forested section of the Cascade Range in Northern California and appeared to be heading south, said Mark Stopher of the California Department of Fish and Game.

"From Google Earth, it looks like it is habitat he can find both cover and food in," Stopher said. "A lot of people would like to see OR-7 become an Oregon wolf again. To me, it's a coin toss now what he is going to do."

Wolves usually mate during February, but there are no signs OR-7 has found one yet.

OR-7 left the Imnaha pack in northeastern Oregon last September, shortly before the state put a death warrant on his father and a sibling for killing cattle. He is a descendant of wolves introduced into the Northern Rockies in the 1990s, and represents the westernmost expansion of a regional population that now tops 1,650.

Since OR-7 left his pack, he has meandered more than 700 miles across mountains, deserts, and major highways to southwestern Oregon and onto Northern California.

A conservation group has dubbed him Journey, a name picked from a list of entries sent by children as far away as Finland. Oregon Wild said it was part of an effort to make the wolf too famous to kill.

"Journey is the most famous wolf in the world," said Steve Pedery, conservation director of Oregon Wild. "It is not surprising that the paparazzi finally caught up with him."

The photo was first published by the Mail Tribune. The hunter whose camera took Journey's photo declined to be interviewed by The Associated Press.

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Jeff Barnard can be contacted at http://twitter.com/JeffBarnardAP

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This Oct. 25, 2011 photo provided by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife shows OR-11, a male pup from the Walla Walla pack, waking up from anesthesia after being fitted with a radio tracking collar in northeastern Oregon. Another wolf, OR-7, from the Imnaha pack, has become a celebrity by trekking 730 miles on a zigzag course from near the Idaho border tot he southern Cascade Range. His GPS tracking collar has traced his trail across the state. (AP Photo/Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife)
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Filed by Carly Schwartz  |