GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — A conservation group is challenging a national forest timber sale because it may be too close to the den where Oregon's famous wandering wolf, OR-7, is raising pups.
Oregon Wild filed the lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Medford against the U.S. Forest Service over the Bybee timber sale on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in the Cascade Range of southwestern Oregon.
It asks a judge to order a closer examination of the harm logging may do not only to potential wilderness and spotted owls, but to wolf habitat as well.
"We don't know the location" of the wolf den, said Doug Heiken of Oregon Wild. "We are concerned this timber sale is in the area that the new wolf den is described as being in. We need the Forest Service to step back and double-check to make sure this timber sale won't put the first wolf family in western Oregon in 70 years at risk."
After years of wandering across Oregon and Northern California, OR-7 found a mate last winter in the southern Cascades, establishing the first known pack there since the last known wolf in Oregon was killed by a bounty hunter in the nearby Rogue-Umpqua Divide region in 1946. Biologists have not wanted to disclose the location of the den, but have said it is in the Cascade Range on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
The Forest Service does not comment on pending litigation, said spokeswoman Sarah Levy.
But the timber industry, which supports the timber sale, said OR-7 and his family would be better served if the project goes ahead because it would reduce the risk of wildfire and increase the amount of food available to deer and elk, which wolves eat.
"Those who are defending the wolves ought to be thinking about what the wolves want," said Ann Forest Burns, vice present of the American Forest Resource Council, which represents timber companies that depend on federal timber. "No wolf chow, no wolves."
The federal government has lifted Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves across the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes regions, but wolves remain an endangered species in western Oregon and California, where OR-7 has spent most of his time. Both Oregon and California also offer state endangered species protection for wolves.
Collared with a GPS device that tracked his movements, OR-7 left his pack in northeastern Oregon in September 2011 and crossed mountains, deserts and highways to reach the Cascade Range, then dipped into Northern California south of Mount Lassen, the southern tip of the Cascade Range, before returning to Oregon. His travels were followed around the world. Biologists got photos of OR-7 and his mate with automatic cameras, and a few weeks ago found at least two pups, though the parents were nowhere to be seen.