By DICK MASON
Of The (La Grande) Observer
LA GRANDE A La Grande man thinks he spotted a wolf about 16 miles west of La Grande Wednesday morning.
Randy Simmons of La Grande reported to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife that he saw a wolf around 8 a.m. Wednesday while in a motor vehicle traveling west. The animal was between 50 and 100 yards north of Interstate 84.
The animal was facing away from the freeway on a snow covered point looking over a canyon. Simmons said the animal was much bigger than a coyote and had fur like a husky.
andquot;It had a thick winter coat,andquot; said Simmons, a retired rural mail carrier.
Simmons said the animal was black, white and gray and had a bushy tail.
Simmons reported his sighting to The Observer Wednesday afternoon and to the ODFW Thursday morning. ODFW biologists went immediately to the location of of Simmons sighting, which is between mileposts 246 and 245 and about two miles west of the Spring Creek exit.
Biologists found tracks at the site but unfortunately rainfall had washed them out to the point that they could not determine whether they were dog, wolf or coyote tracks, said the ODFW's Russ Morgan, Oregon's Wolf Plan coordinator.
Biologists also looked for wolf scat but could not find any.
Morgan, based in La Grande, said the ODFW investigated 42 reported wolf sightings in 2006, most of which were in Union, Wallowa and Baker counties. The ODFW has not confirmed any of the sightings but is continuing to investigate as many as it can.
andquot;We take all the sightings seriously,andquot; Morgan said.
Investigating reports is difficult because wolves are secretive and move great distances.
andquot;A wolf might travel 100 miles in a day,andquot; said Morgan.
The ODFW biologist said it would be unusual for a wolf to be in the open 50 to 100 yards from a freeway and not running but noted that animals do unusual and unpredictable things.
Morgan noted that wolf hybrids have been raised in the Meacham area in the past and there is a possibility that this was such an animal.
The large number of reported wolf sightings in Northeast Oregon over the past year is not surprising since Idaho has a large wolf population and the animals are believed to be moving into Northeast Oregon from there.
andquot;We suspect they are here but are not 100 percent certain,andquot; Morgan said.
When sightings are confirmed the biologist plans to trap the animals and attach radio collars so that their movements can be monitored. This is required under the state's Wolf Plan, which outlines how wolves are to be managed when they come into Oregon.