The animal was standing about 75 yards away in the snow. It looked like a wolf, sniffing the ground, like it was hunting.

"It was beautiful, the most magnificent creature I've ever seen," said Charlotte Hopkins of Long Creek.

She and her husband, Dennis, were driving to Prairie City on County Road 18. It would have been their usual Sunday afternoon outing, except it was Monday, the holiday after Jan. 1, and they don't usually see large, wild predators on their weekly trip.

It was when the couple stopped to tinkle their chihuahua near Nipple Butte that Mrs. Hopkins saw the animal.

"It was there for thirty to forty seconds," she said. "Unless you were blind, it was a wolf."

She'd never seen such a large animal, she said.

"Beautiful fur on them this time of year - and that tail, gorgeous," she said. "It looked like the pictures you see."

She wished they had a camera, instead of Mr. Hopkins' new binoculars. She thought about buying a lottery ticket.

"The guy at the (local office of) fish and wildlife said that was about my chances of seeing a wolf, winning the lottery," said Mrs. Hopkins, who made the phone call Jan. 3.

Darren Bruning and Greg Jackle, the local state wildlife biologists, took the report seriously. Jackle went up to the area to check for tracks and other evidence of a wolf, but there was about 18 inches of snow on the ground, and he didn't find anything conclusive.

John Stephenson, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service out of Bend, was called because it's the feds who have responsibility for endangered species, Bruning said.

A day or two after Jackle, Stephenson made the trip up there. In another place, he found some large tracks frozen in ice that were on the low range of wolf size. They were bigger than a coyote, but could have been made by a big dog, he said. His trip didn't find any conclusive evidence of a wolf sighting.

"We always give the benefit of the doubt to local sightings," Stephenson said. "There was no evidence of a pack, and only marginal evidence it was a wolf. It's unlikely that it was a wolf."

The possibility that it was a dog didn't stand for Hopkins.

"I'm not an alarmist, and I understand that anyone could call up and say they saw whatever, and the people have to deal with that, but what I saw was bigger than any German Shepherd or malamute I've ever seen," she said. "Unless you were blind, it was a wolf."

Whatever she saw, it got Mrs. Hopkins busy. The sighting was 12 miles from her place, where she raises miniature Dexter cows and has two llamas. She put bells on them, she said, and started calling neighborhoods to give them a heads-up.

Her concern was protecting livestock, and she has not started a crusade against wolves, she said.

"Wolves do what wolves do. They get hungry and look for food," she said. "I don't have anything against wolves. I feel grateful that I got to see it."

Few other people in Grant County have reported wolf sightings, Stephenson said. There was a call or two during the recent hunting season of wolves, but nothing confirmed, he said.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the Oregon wolf plan in February 2005. The plan does not call for actively reintroducing wolves, but managing wolves that naturally disperse into Oregon. No wolves are confirmed in Oregon at this time, but biologists expect wolves to establish a permanent Oregon population as the Idaho wolf population grows and disperses. Wolves are protected under state and federal law.

The plan does not contain any provisions for paying compensation for wolf-caused livestock losses and for proactive methods to prevent wolf depredation. It also does not designate the wolf as a "special status mammal" under the game mammal statute; and it does not allow livestock owners without a permit to kill wolves caught "in the act" of killing livestock.

These provisions were not acted on by the 2005 Oregon Legislature.

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