OR-7: A Reason For Hope

One of the most famous wolves in American history is OR-7. Commonly known as Journey, OR-7 inspired the Pacific Northwest and Northern California to embrace the expansion of wolves. Thousands have followed his story and he has trekked from the far corners of Oregon, across the state, and even all the way down to California. He’s sired 17 pups that have spread out around the state of Oregon, some forming their own packs.

In 2015, the Shasta Pack became California’s first known wolf family since the species was decimated in the mid-1920s. Late 2015 brought the news that there was also a “wolf-like canid” discovered in western Lassen County, which was confirmed to be a female gray wolf the following year who established the Lassen Pack. With the recent news of a new wolf roaming northern California — OR-54, a female who is a direct descendent of OR-7 — there is continued hope that gray wolves will continue to search out new territories that suit their needs for survival.

Our vision for wolves is one of natural expansion and coexistence with humans. Wildlife corridors connect core habitats so that individuals like OR-7 can venture forth and expand the range of their species. Conservation strategies for many imperiled species call for protecting and restoring habitat linkages to allow for movement.

At Defenders, we spend a lot of time in the field, talking, walking, and working alongside people whose livelihoods depend on the land. Their livelihoods, and often generations of history, rely on working the land, and living with animals that rely on the same habitat. Lethal removal of wolves that cause problems just means that more wolves will move into the habitat. We have the coexistence tools, the expertise to use them, and the research to prove they work. All we need are people willing to give it a go.

Wolves have been villainized in culture a long time and the preconceived notions we have are detrimental to the successful expansion of their range. Wolves acting like they do in fairy tales is unrealistic, but it’s hard to break through the stereotypes. Wolves ARE predators, and they are certainly not pets like your ball-fetching golden retriever. But between all that is a keystone species that shapes an ecosystem.

Corridors, coexistence, and the courage to accept and appreciate both our own place and the role of the wolf are important and necessary. OR-7 is not only the hero of a conservation success story, he’s a reminder that nature’s drive to survive is powerful and that we have a role to play in ensuring a future where our wildlife can thrive.