GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) - Oregon's famous wandering wolf has fathered pups with a mate in the southern Cascade Range - the first confirmed wolf pack in those mountains since the 1940s, officials said Wednesday.
Biologists made the determination after traveling Monday to a site in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest east of Medford, where photos and a GPS tracking collar showed the wolf known as OR-7 has been living with a mate.
They saw two pups peering out from a pile of logs and may have heard more, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said.
OR-7 and his mate were not spotted but could well have been nearby in the dense timber, Fish and Wildlife biologist John Stephenson said.
"OR-7 was probably off getting some food," he said. "We saw a couple deer (and elk) legs that had obviously been getting chewed on."
The discovery marked the farthest west and south a wolf pack has established itself since the animals were reintroduced in the Northern Rockies in the 1990s, he said.
Any wolves that set up house in western Oregon or California are still covered by the U.S. Endangered Species Act, but U.S. Fish and Wildlife is expected to decide in December on a proposal to lift that protection.
If the federal designation is lifted, those wolves will still have state endangered species protection. Prompted by OR-7's wanderings in the state, California's Fish and Game Commission voted Wednesday to add the gray wolf to the state's endangered species list despite objections from ranchers and no evidence of other wolves there. The decision requires a second vote in August to become final.
"Poaching can really impact on wolf recovery in new areas," said Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity, a conservation group. "This just highlights the fact wolves continue to need protections."
OR-7 set off in search of a mate in September 2011, covering thousands of miles from his birthplace in northeastern Oregon to Northern California and back into southwestern Oregon.
OR-7 became famous as his tracking collar chronicled his lonesome wanderings across deserts, highways and mountains. Last winter he began spending his time in a limited area, typical of a wolf that has found a mate. Trail camera photos confirmed it last month.
Stephenson said he went into the area one evening in late April and howled and got a return howl, indicating OR-7 was protecting his territory from other wolves that might want to move in.
The pack is expected to leave the den this summer, moving some distance to what is known as a rendezvous site, where the pups are left behind while the parents hunt.
Stephenson said he has issued an advisory about the wolf to ranchers who will be turning out cattle on federal grazing allotments.
"They are not really excited about it," he said. "They seem to be taking it in stride. We will be working to take preventative measures."
No evidence has surfaced that OR-7 has attacked livestock.