The wolf, known as OR93, was found dead on Interstate 5 about 90 miles north of Los Angeles, near the town of Lebec, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a statement.
Foul play isn’t suspected, the department said.
OR93 was born in northern Oregon in 2019. After he was outfitted with a radio collar a year later, he was captured traveling to California's Central Coast — the first wolf to be reported there in hundreds of years, said Amaroq Weiss, an advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit organization.
"I’m devastated to learn of the death of this remarkable wolf,” Weiss said in a statement. “His epic travels across California inspired the world. In this annual time of reflection, I thank him for the hope he gave us and for a brief glimpse into what it would be like for wolves to roam wild and free again."
By April, OR93 had arrived in California's San Luis Obispo County, nearly 1,000 miles south of his birthplace. Then, his radio collar stopped working, prompting the San Francisco Chronicle to contemplate the whereabouts of this "young roaming gray wolf" who was "probably looking for love" and eluding wildlife officials while doing so.
In his search for a mate, Weiss said, OR93 was captured on a trail camera even farther south, in Kern County, where his body would be found. In September, he was seen in northern Ventura County.
The last time a wolf was documented that far south was in 1922, wildlife officials said, when one was seen in San Bernardino County.
"I always knew the odds of his finding another wolf on the Central Coast were slim to none, but his relentless wanderings seeking a kindred spirit connected him to the hearts of so many," Weiss said. "He won’t be forgotten, and we’ll honor his memory by continuing to fight for the safety of wolves everywhere.”
Gray wolves, which are native to California, were killed off a century ago. About 20 are now believed to live in two northern counties, Weiss said.
Weiss pointed to OR93’s death as a reminder of the impact of development and sprawl on the habitats of native animals and called for the construction of effective wildlife crossings, including underpasses and overpasses.