While folks around the country are celebrating the Nations’s independence with parades, fireworks and BBQs, the movement continues to create a new state out of southern Oregon and northern California. The State of Jefferson is not a new idea. It was going strong in the 1940s and probably would have succeeded if World War 2 hadn’t interrupted things.
The reasons behind the current movement have to do with taxes, water rights, concerns about regulation and proper representation, which all sounds reasonable. But one of the goals listed on the SOJ51 website tells me the environment may come in a far second to humans. It calls for “Utilization of our natural resources– timber, water, farming, mining, hunting and fishing.” Sounds like old-fashioned dominion over nature to me. Some proponents of the state split have been quite vocal about their disapproval of creatures like wolves and spotted owls. And their social viewpoint leans way to the right, blurring at times with the Tea Party.
As the secession is a tremendous long shot that would require approval from both the California Legislature and the U.S. Congress, I don’t think we need to worry about this just yet. But if the State of Jefferson ever does become a reality, let’s hope the leaders have the foresight to protect their natural resources, rather than just deplete them.
Meanwhile, the majority of us are thrilled when we read of yet another wolf dispersing to the State of Jefferson. One of the newcomers is OR 33, a black male from the Imnaha pack of northeast Oregon. He recently earned the dubious distinction of being the first wolf to prey on livestock in Jackson County (quite close to Ashland) since wolves were extirpated from our state in the 1940s. Nonlethal measures have been taken and so far, seem to be working.
Last I heard, OR 25, also a black Imnaha wolf, had trotted back into Oregon from a short stay in Modoc County, California, and is now roaming Lake and Klamath Counties. He dispersed from his natal pack in March of 2015. OR 25 killed a calf on the 5,000 acre Yamsi Ranch along the Williamson River last fall. No new depredations have been reported. I spoke with Gerda Hyde, the matriarch of the Yamsi Ranch, shortly after OR 25 had been spotted on her land. She was quite blasé about the matter, saying the wolf didn’t bother her a bit. Dayton Hyde, Gerda’s former partner, now runs the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in South Dakota. He is a writer and long-time conservationist. Over 40 years ago, Dayton first spoke up against randomly killing predators to prevent livestock depredation, believing that lethally removing predators that were not killing cattle was counterproductive and unnecessary. We have a lot to learn from some of our ranchers.
OR 7, or Journey, has maintained a clean record, as has his Rogue Pack, as far as I know. The first litter born to Journey and his mate would be two years old now, their second litter are yearlings, and likely they had pups born in mid-April. Journey is the sole wolf collared in this family group and only the VHF aspect of his collar still functions. I imagine the Fish and Wildlife officials know the whereabouts of members of the Rogue Pack, but the rest of us are wondering if the young adults have dispersed or if they still hanging out and helping with the pups.
OR 3, a black Imnaha wolf that had not been seen or heard from since 2011, has reappeared in Klamath County. This older brother of OR 7 may be paired with OR 28, a radio-collared female from the Mount Emily Pack. Her area of known wolf activity (ANWA) includes the Fort Rock and Silver Lake management until of Klamath and Lake County. If they are a couple, there are likely pups.
The Keno wolves showed evidence of inhabiting their area during January, March, and August of 2015. ODFW lists no new information for 2016 for these wolves. They may have dispersed into northern California to form the state’s first pack in nearly a century.
The Shasta Pack, a family of seven all-black wolves (not counting this years pups), have the good fortune to live beneath and to the east of the majestic Mount Shasta. A June, 2016 update to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website reports that both the female and male breeding animals of the Shasta pack are from the Imnaha wolves. It’s heartening to know that OR 4 and OR 2 are still living through the many offspring they produced.
Northern California has a new resident, this one to Lassen County. A young male, grey coated wolf has been spotted on trail cameras in the area, meaning he is probably not related to the black Shasta wolves. DNA tests of hair samples have not proven conclusive, but it’s likely this is another disperser from NE Oregon.
I am grateful to live in the area that is becoming a destination for so many wolves. And to have wonderful people like Amaroq Weiss, Wally Sykes, Pam and Randy Comeleo and Lilia Letsch to go hiking with in search of wolf sign. There are many folks hiking and camping in the wilds of the State of Jefferson, enjoying the opportunity to surround themselves with a nature that now includes wolves. As wolves are keystone predators, we can look forward to the positive effect they may have on the environment. And we can appreciate the chance we have, at long last, to live in a world that contains the presence of at least one more element of it’s natural state.
If he only knew how many people thought about him, talked about him, read about him and watched movies made in his honor, Journey, our famous wandering wolf, would no doubt delve even deeper into the wilderness. Fortunately, he doesn’t know and his life continues as it should, without untoward interference by humans.
This Wednesday, May 18 at 7 pm, the documentary entitled Wolf OR 7 Expedition will be shown in Ashland, Oregon at the Meese Auditorium at Southern Oregon University. You may have heard about this expedition. It’s the story of six adventures who followed the trail of Journey, all the way from his home in the far northeastern corner of Oregon to places he visited in northern California. After the film there will be a question and answer period emceed by Lilia Letsch. On the panel will be myself, Wally Sykes, wolf advocate with Northeast Oregon Ecosystems, and Joe Kreuzman of Coyote Trails School of Nature. KS Wild (Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center) and SOU Outdoor Program are hosting the event. Tickets are $15. Please join us if you can!
I am also happy to report that my book, Journey: The Wandering Wolfis (finally!) complete and will be out by the end of this summer. I started working on this project over three years ago and it has evolved into what I hope readers will agree is an educational and interesting portrayal of Journey’s life so far. The book is geared for middle to high school readers but is accessible for all ages. Enlisting the tool of narrative nonfiction, I’ve written the story in a personable yet accurate manner, including sections that are through the point of view of the wolf. There is information about the history of wolves in Oregon and elsewhere, how biologists study these animals, the importance of wildlife corridors to their movement, and what we can do to improve life for Canis lupus. Journey: The Wandering Wolf will be available in both hard and soft cover. I’ll keep you updated as the date approaches. Thanks to everyone who made this possible including those I interviewed and my patient and encouraging family and friends who read the text. I’m indebted to my sister Helen Hill and Rob Klavins of Oregon Wild for their help. And of course, thanks to Journey for creating this amazing story for all of us to learn from and enjoy.
When I left home on Thursday morning, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife had released a statement saying they intended to kill four wolves from the Imnaha pack, including OR 4, the sire of Journey and other wolves that have spread to southern Oregon, where I live.
The snow on Clover Creek Road was as high as my car as I drove toward territory that Journey and his family have been known to travel. It brought a much needed sense of calm to be there, surrounded by sixty foot Ponderosa pines and not a human in site. I strayed off on a logging road to walk. There were no sign of wolves, no surprise, but there were lots of wide, wet tracks left by some huge log-moving machine. I recalled a statement in Timothy Egan’s book, Lasso the Wind, saying there is nowhere in the lower 48 where a road is any farther than 25 miles away. Wilderness, not much of it left.
And wolves, soon there would be four less of them in Oregon. I understand that removing the core of the Imnaha pack will not likely affect the survival of the species in our state. At last count there were over a hundred, enough to keep them going. And I understand that OR 4, his mate Limpy, and their two pups, did break the law of the Oregon Wolf Plan by preying on cattle. I don’t doubt that Russ Morgan and his staff were meticulous in their examinations of the carcasses. They wouldn’t say these were wolf kills if they weren’t certain.
But the legalities of the matter are not everything. They speak nothing about the questionable morality of the decision. They speak nothing of the worth of this family of animals, one of them an icon, a wolf that has been instrumental in the return of a valuable species to the wilderness of Oregon and California. And sterile legalities don’t utter so much as a whisper to the feelings we have about the shooting of these wolves. Feelings. Emotions. There, I’ve said it. Now I can talk about it.
My father, in his decades of directing a small zoo in Iowa, cared for animals with a compassion I’ve rarely seen since. But at the same time, he taught his kids that people came first, that meant us and everyone else, even the ones we didn’t particularly like. This was at times a hard pill to swallow, but I believe he was right. Humans count, a lot. Yet my dad was a man who thought widely and deeply and if he were still with us, he would have seen that the removal of the Imnaha pack is a very human issue indeed, one that impacts many.
For the killing of the Imnaha Pack happened not only there, in a remote corner of Oregon, but everywhere, in all parts of the planet where sentient beings feel. The ripples of the actions of ODFW, so clearly serving only a very vocal minority, are spreading as we speak, infiltrating hearts and minds with the injustice of this eye for an eye mentality.
Our reactions to this event are worthy, reasonable and incredibly important. How else have humans invoked change in this world but by voicing their feelings about atrocities and inequities? Feelings, followed by science, are behind our efforts to preserve what’s left of our old growth forest, to protect endangered species, to fight against climate change. Our emotions about wrongs leads to action, which leads to legislation and laws. We cannot and should not dismiss the importance of how we feel.
Several years ago when visiting NE Oregon, I heard and absorbed the emotional appeal of a rancher when she spoke of how attached ranchers became to their cattle, especially the old cows that return year after year from the grazing allotments, helping to guide the herd back to the ranch. I understood the rancher when she spoke on this level, her fear of wolves made more sense to me. However, expressing feelings about the protection of wolves remains a stigma, something we’ve been conditioned not to express.
It’s important for advocates to educate themselves on the facts and to stay steady while stating our case. And the facts of wolf protection are clearly on our side. Look at the numbers, at last count there were 110 wolves in the state and according to a January 2016 survey, Oregon houses 1,320,000 cattle. Meanwhile, wolves are still absent from 90 percent of their potential habitat. Last year, a bill was passed to provide Oregon ranchers with a tax break for livestock losses and they are still receiving compensation for verified depredations. The Wallowa County Depredation Committee will most likely reimburse the ranchers whose cattle sustained the Imnaha wolves for a short time. And these are the very ranchers who pushed for the elimination of the pack. Besides all of this, the positive impact of wolves on other species as well as the environment has been documented repeatedly by researchers who spend years studying the issue. Yet science alone is not allowing us a solution to the battles we continually face.
I don’t know what the answer is but I do know how I feel about the loss of the Imnaha pack and all of the wolves that continue to be killed for ranching and hunting interests, or just because of fear. And these feelings are what keep me writing and digging deep for faith that the world can somehow become less about extraction of resources, including wolves, and more about preserving the vestiges of nature we have left.
The snow diminishes as I travel back home. The tall pines shift to Manzanita bushes and scrub oak. Lines of heat waves dance on the road before me. This is the time of year when horses are hot in their long winter hair and wolves pant, warm with their thick winter undercoat. When I arrive the news is there. The wolves are dead, OR 4, Limpy and their two yearling pups. I realized I had harbored hope that somehow, a last minute order would prevent this.
Journey’s mother, Sophie, disappeared about two years ago and is assumed to be dead. My wish for Journey, now in his sixth year, is that he ends like her, a fading signal followed by stillness, followed by his disappearance. In my estimation, this would be a far better end than to have a small group of humans determining the hour of his death.
The ODFW released their 2015 annual wolf report, and the news is good: at least 110 wolves called Oregon home at the end of last year. 12 packs, 11 breeding pairs and three new pairs were documented. A total of 33 pups survived the year. Of the known packs, only southern Oregon’s Rogue pack could not be confirmed as a breeding pair, due to difficulty in locating them now that OR-7’s collar is dead. And the number of livestock depredations has dropped as well, despite a 36% rise in the wolf population.
Most of Oregon’s wolves are still clustered on the eastern side of I-84, and that region is quickly approaching, if not already at, carrying capacity. At least 91 of Oregon’s 110 wolves live east of I-84. Only two packs are confirmed to reside west of that man-made barrier, OR-7’s Rogue pack and a new, as-yet unnamed pack (locals…
Brett Haverstick, creator of the annual Speak For Wolves event held at Yellowstone National Park, has organized yet another rally. This one was held yesterday in Boise. Read Brett’s account of the very successful event below.
Also, please review this post from Oregon Wild on the status of HB 4040, the bill that will finalize the removal of state protections for wolves in Oregon. The bill has passed the House and is now being discussed in the Senate. We still an opportunity to shut this down, so please call and speak up. The Oregon Wild link provides details.
On Monday February 15 a demonstration took place on the steps of the capitol building in Boise, Idaho consisting of 70 people and multiple wolf advocacy organizations representing thousands of their members- including Friends of the Clearwater, Defenders of Wildlife, Predator Defense, Western Watersheds Project, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Wildlands Defense, and Center for Biological Diversity. The event was coordinated to show support for wolf recovery in Idaho and opposition to Idaho’s Wolf Control Board and last week’s aerial gunning of wolves in the “Lolo Zone” of north-central Idaho.
The Idaho Fish & Game Department recently announced the completion of an aerial gunning exercise by the USDA Wildlife Services that resulted in the killing of 20 wolves on the Clearwater National Forest. There was no public notice of the operation and funding for the operation came from the Idaho Wolf Control Board. Funding for the control board comes from state taxpayer dollars, hunting license fees and money from the Idaho Fish & Game Department and livestock industry.
The Wolf Control Board was awarded $400,000 in 2015. A total of 72 wolves were killed with money from the Wolf Control Board in 2015. That equates to roughly $5,500 per dead wolf. The Idaho Wolf Control Board is now requesting an additional $400,000 for further wolf “control” actions in 2016.
Demonstrators are demanding an end to Idaho’s wasteful Wolf Control Board and the termination of the ruthless USDA Wildlife Services aerial gunning program in the Lolo Zone on the Clearwater National Forest. Please call Idaho Governor Butch Otter at (208) 334-2100 and the USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack at (202) 720-3631.
Once again, I’ve compiled wolf news highlights for the past year. This is a challenging task and I’m sure there are many news worthy events that I’ve missed. Feel free to add events in the comment section. I appreciate your help! Thanks to Defenders of Wildlife, Oregon Wild and Wally Sykes for their posts on wolf news. This has made my work much easier. For an update specific to Great Lakes wolves read Rachel Tilseth’s post on her blog, Wolves of Douglas County. Rick Lamplugh has also written a state by state review of wolves in the lower 48. With all of these offerings, readers have a thorough update on what has been going on, and what is in the future, for Canis lupus.
January 2015: This month marked the twentieth anniversary of the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho’s Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. The auspicious event was commemorated at YNP with a gathering of some of the folks responsible for the reintroduction, including Carter Niemeyer, Dr. Doug Smith and Suzanna Stone.
In Oregon, Journey’s pack was officially named the Rogue Pack, not because they’re rogues but because they range in and near the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. Also, a new adult male wolf was seen via trail camera in the Keno area just north of the Oregon-California border, marking further progression of wolves to southern Oregon. Later in the month, another wolf was spotted in the Keno Unit, this one a large black animal. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) reports that there are now nine known wolf packs in Oregon, all of them breeding except for the Imnaha pack. These numbers triggered a move to phase two of the state’s wolf recovery plan.
February 2015: The North Carolina wildlife commission calls for an end to the 27 year old Red wolf project, requesting that the US Fish and Wildlife Service capture all wolves that were released on private property. Reasons given include wolves eating too many deer and breeding with coyotes.
March 2015: Some grim statistics: Wolves killed so far this season in Idaho total 116 by hunting and 94 by trapping. Montana reports 127 lost to hunting and 77 to trapping. This comes to a total of 420 for the season. The total number of wolves killed since Federal delisting (not including lethal control by Wildlife Services) is 2,323.
In Washington state, an overly friendly wolf was caught up and relocated to Wolf Haven International in Tenino. Ione, the only remaining member of her family group, sought company with dogs near her namesake town of Ione. Rather than euthanize the wolf for her potentially problematic behavior, state officials trapped her and took her to safe refuge where she happily resides with a wolf-dog hybrid named Luca.
Idaho Fish and Game reports the completion of a wolf cull program in the Lolo zone in the northern part of the state. Wildlife Service agents killed 19 wolves in late February. The costs for this helicopter extermination was not released. The expense was financed with Wolf Depredation Control Board money funded through the purchase of hunting licenses. Defenders revealed that in 2014, “31 wolves (were lethally removed) between July and January – which comes out to $4,516 per wolf.” In the press release, Fish and Game justified their actions with this statement: “The overall objective is to maintain a smaller, but self-sustaining, population of wolves in the Lolo zone to allow the elk population to increase.”
April 2015: Two Mexican wolves were released by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, boosting the number of Canis lupus baileyi in the southwest to over 100. The wolves released were a mated pair and the female was pregnant. This new family group will bring much needed genetic diversity to the Mexican wolf population.
The BBC reports that five Norwegians were sent to prison for organizing an illegal wolf hunt. The sentences ranged from six months to a year and eight months as well as the revocation of hunting privileges for various time periods. The article states, “They were tried under Norway’s organised crime laws following a high level police operation involving telephone wiretaps.” There are only 30 known wolves living in Norway.
Montana wolf population declined about 12%, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Their count at the end of 2014 was 554 wolves. They also reported that depredations were down 46% from 2013 making cattle losses due to wolves the lowest in 8 years.
May 2015: USFWS confirmed that the animal shot (I thought it was a coyote!) outside of Kremmling, Colorado was indeed a grey wolf. This is the second disperser to travel over 500 miles to Colorado and then be killed. Echo, a female grey wolf was seen near the Grand Canyon late in 2014, but she died in Utah when shot by a hunter. No charges were filed. The Grand Canyon has been without wolves for over 70 years.
A letter signed by 36 Representatives to Sally Jewel, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, and to Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, requested that federal protections be removed for wolves in much of the lower 48. The decision was delayed, perhaps due to the fact that they received over one million comments opposing the delisting.
June 2015: An article by Taylor Hill explains the sad situation of wolves in Southeast Alaska. Known as the Alexander Archipelago wolf, these animals live in SE Alaska, British Columbia and the Prince of Wales Island. Their territory includes the Tongass National Forest. Due to pressure from hunting and trapping, as well as habitat loss and timber harvest, their numbers have declined over 60% in just one year. Hill reports a decline of 221 to 89. Greenpeace and Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the government to obtain an endangered species status for these wolves. Some believe they are genetically distinct enough to be considered a distinct subspecies. (While writing this I learned that the USFWS denied endangered species status for the Alexander Archipelago wolf, despite admitting that populations on Prince of Wales Island went from 356 in 1994 to only 89 in 2014. The article mentions that timber sales would have been restricted if the wolves had been granted endangered species status.)
OR 25, a large black male wolf from northeast Oregon’s Imnaha pack, disperses to Klamath County in the southern part of the state. His GPS collar located him near or on the 5,000 acre Yamsi Ranch at the headwaters of the Williamson River. Jerri Yamsi is quoted as saying, “I don’t care if the wolf is here. It doesn’t bother me.” She also said that she believes wolves have been on the ranch in the past.
July 2015: ODFW finds scat to verify that OR 7 and his black mate (determined to be from the Snake River and Minam packs in NE Oregon) have had a second litter of pups. Elsewhere in the state, the Umatilla pack killed three sheep near Wester Mountain. Russ Morgan, wolf coordinator with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife says, “There has not been a depredation of this pack for some time. We are in phase two of our rules and that does have a different criteria for when lethal control of problem wolves is an option, but we’re really not at this stage yet with this pack.” Washington state reported its first wolf depredations of 2015. Two cattle were determined to be confirmed wolf kills on a grazing allotment in Stevens County in the northeast part of the state.
An article in The Spokesman-Review reveals how dogs rescued from shelters are being trained to locate scat from wild animals, including wolves. The University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology spearheaded the Conservation Canine program that is aiding scientists in locating scat that helps determine the distribution of wildlife, their diet, hormone levels and other useful information.
August 2015: California has its first wolf pack since 1924! Named the Shasta Pack, five pups and an adult pair were photographed in the area near Mount Shasta in north central California. Protected under both state and federal Endangered Species Acts, these wolves will hopefully avoid harassment as their numbers grow.
The second annual Speak For Wolves event was held at Yellowstone National Park. The event hosted speakers including Oliver Starr, who educated the audience on the need for a safe boundary zone for wolves leaving Denali National Park, and Kim Wheeler who spoke on behalf of the Red wolf. There was music and movies and a good time had by all. We look forward to the event again in 2016. Thanks Brett Haverstick for creating and organizing Speak For Wolves!
September 2015: News is released that two wolves were found dead only 500 feet apart from each other in the Sled Springs area of Wallow County in NE Oregon. One of the wolves was collared and a mortality signal alerted ODFW personnel of the death. The cause of death is being investigated.
In British Columbia the controversial wolf cull program makes media news as pop star Miley Cyrus speaks up against the action. In reaction, BC Premier Christy Clark choses insults over science-based evidence to support the government program to eradicate wolves in order to preserve endangered caribou herds. Nothing is said by Christy of the environmental degradation created by logging and oil extraction in the lands where the caribou herds and wolf packs exist.
October 2015: Oregon Wild hosts its first ever Crater Lake Wolf Rendezvous. The event is held near Crater Lake National Park and included visits with the park’s terrestrial ecologist, Sean Mohren and US Fish and Wildlife Service wolf biologist, John Stephenson, as well as several informative hikes and long evenings around the campfire. We expect this will be an annual event, one you won’t want to miss!
An article in BBC News Magazine reports that a rewilding process may see the return of wolves to Scotland. Written by Adam Weymouth, the story ventures south, following Weymouth’s 200 mile trek. He takes us to where the last wolf in Scotland was killed and to villages in the Scottish Highlands, where wolves would have adequate food and habitat to make a comeback. Hopefully, next year we’ll be reporting progress on this endeavor.
November 2015: The big news in Oregon this month is that the grey wolf loses protection under the state’s Endangered Species Act. After eleven hours of testimony from both sides, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Commission voted 4 to 2 to delist wolves. Oregon’s wolves remain covered under the federal ESA in the western two-thirds of the state, and ODFW officials report that the state wolf management plan remains in effect to protect wolves at this time. Within a month, environmental groups file suit against the decision.
Only sixteen wolves remain on Isle Royale, and a decision is in the making whether to intervene or not. “Wolves would restore balance to the system, and their numbers on Isle Royale should be augmented now,” 47 top conservation scientists wrote in a letter to the Park Service last month, stating that wolves are essential to balance on Isle Royale and that wolf numbers should be augmented now. In their words, “Delays in acting will only worsen the situation.”
December 2015: I must add this article that discusses how wolves may well return to my home state of Iowa, via Minnesota and Wisconsin. Of course, the ones that have dispersed there so far have been shot. Let’s hope Iowan’s will educate themselves and understand the benefit Canis lupus can bring to their environment.
We end on a good note! The congressional wolf delisting riders were removed from the Federal Budget Bill, ensuring protection for wolves that have not lost Federal protections before. Hopefully, this will regain some good feelings toward the Obama administration that was compromised due to their previous passing of the Budget Bill that delisted wolves.
I hope this post has been helpful and will inspire you to continue to do whatever possible to speak up for wolves and the environment. Our help is needed everywhere and in all capacities, from contributing to wolf advocacy groups to writing editorials and calling public officials to educating others on the facts about wolves. And don’t forget to get out there and enjoy the wilderness whenever you can. There is no better form of therapy!
This is a link to my recent article in Earth Island Journal, called Hounding the Hunters. The article reviews the work of vigilante groups such as Wolf Patrol and Wildlife Defense League as they endeavor to protect wolves and other species.
I would like to thank Earth Island Journal for publishing Hounding The Hunters. This story describes the actions of several groups that employ innovative techniques to expose the cruelty of trophy hunting and trapping of wolves and other species. I began the article in Wisconsin during the final week of the 2014 wolf season when hound hunters were legally allowed to set their dogs upon wolves. I met with Wolf Patrol, a grass-roots group documenting the Wisconsin hunt. The story progressed from there to other efforts in protest of sport killing including Wildlife Defense League in B.C. and the Hunt Saboteurs of Great Britain.
If you aren’t already a reader of Earth Island Journal (EIJ) I suggest you consider a subscription. This publication is renown for their investigative journalism of environmental topics. EIJ is the publication of Earth Island Institute which was founded in 1982 by David Brower, the first Executive Director of the Sierra Club. Writer James William Gibson has written several timely wolf articles for EIJ that can be found on their website.
Below is the first paragraph of the story. Click on the text for the rest. The print edition can be purchased online or in most bookstores.
Monday, November 9, 2015 marked a day of decision for the future of wolves in Oregon. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Commission met in Salem, Oregon to hear public testimony on the proposed delisting of wolves in our state and then to vote on the subject.
The meeting began at eight in the morning and continued until seven pm. Testimony was heard from those on both sides of the issue. Out of the 77 that testified, 43 spoke up to maintain protections for wolves in Oregon, while 34 were in favor of delisting. Once testimony was complete, the Commission met with their legal counsel to discuss the possible repercussions of a partial delisting, which would remove state protections for wolves in the eastern and middle parts of the state, but would maintain protections for wolves elsewhere. It was determined that the current Endangered Species Act did not allow for this option.
So, with a vote of 4 to 2, wolves were delisted statewide.
One illusion that comes with living in a democracy is the assumption that our voices are heard. However, Monday’s actions of the ODFW Commission does not lead one to believe that they listened, except to the voices that coincided with the decision they made, and perhaps had made long before.
I did not attend. The needs of Spike, our 15 year old Jack Russell came first. He’s been having spells of some kind that lend him weak and listless, unable to walk or eat or play for hours. When he feels up to walking again, he gets stuck in corners and needs help backing out. Sometimes, he forgets how to drink. Last evening, he perked up and played like a pup with Dylan, my son and the much loved and loving owner of Spike. Then he curled up in his dog bed, worn out by the day. As you can imagine, I just didn’t feel good about leaving him.
So I stayed home and tried to watch the meeting via webcam, however technical difficulties didn’t allow this. I called the ODFW and they said they were working on it, but apparently the difficulties were too much to overcome.
Instead, I reviewed Russ Morgan’s PowerPoint on delisting grey wolves in Oregon, the submissions made by organizations and scientific sources, and the letters and emails sent to the Commission that were posted on the meeting agenda.
I learned a ton from these comments, both from the experts and from the many individuals who wrote in, some with major credentials behind their names and some whose names were followed simply by a street address. And the addresses came from all over, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Washington and Ontario.
Here are a few things I read that led me to wonder how well the Commission listened before the four of them cast their vote to delist:
Suzanne Asha Stone, Senior Northwest Representative with Defenders of Wildlife, wrote of the fact that federal delisting will likely occur soon, leaving wolves throughout Oregon without that protection. She also brought up concerns that the number of wolves coming into Oregon from Idaho may decrease as Idaho strives to meet it’s goal of fewer wolves. This could also contribute to genetic isolation issues here in Oregon. Stone questioned that delisting may reduce the important emphasis on non-lethal measures to protect livestock from wolves, leading to more problems. In her words, “As seen, improperly managed conflicts with livestock represent the single greatest challenge to wolf conservation. And if wolf and livestock conflicts are not well managed, as frequently seen elsewhere, wolves pay a heavy toll through lethal control and illegal killing.”
The Pacific Wolf Coalition submitted letters and detailed research by scientists and others knowledgeable on the subject. The summation of the findings was that none of these individuals believed that the ODFW’s recommendation to delist was sound. Those cited include Marc Becoff, Michael Soule, Barbara Brower, William Ripple, Adrien Treves, Jennifer Wolch, Robert Beschta, John Vucetich and many others. It was also mentioned that over 22,000 comments were submitted to the Commission that stood in opposition to the delisting.
Pam and Randy Comeleo of Corvallis researched how past Commissions have evaluated the status of other species up for delisting. Before state protections were removed for the bald eagle and peregrine falcon, both species had repopulated all suitable habitat in the state. Wolves in Oregon now live in only 12% of their potential range. The bald eagle and peregrine falcon were delisted only after “actual statewide recovery was verified by extensive, multi-year field surveys conducted by independent experts.” The peregrine situation underwent a formal peer review by three nationally recognized experts before delisted.
One letter that was signed by over 200 individuals stated, “Most published studies on species viability indicate there needs to be a population in the range of several thousand animals–not a mere 77–to be able to withstand catastrophic events like disease outbreak.”
Several people wrote in, via email or on handwritten or typed notes, encouraging the Commission to protect wolves in Oregon so there would be adequate numbers to disperse into California. Many of the comments expressed a belief that the decision to delist was a political one, rather than one founded on “sound, peer-reviewed science.” I read a lot of letters asking the Commission to just hold off and not rush into this decision. Many doubted the validity of the ODFW’s study that forecasts little to no chance of a population decrease in the future.
The correspondence I reviewed also included many comments urging the Commission to delist wolves. A lot of these came from members of The Oregon Hunter’s Association (OHA), who sent a notice (with a picture of a snarling wolf) to their members urged them to write letters and attend the meeting dressed in OHA attire. Overwhelmingly, the OHA comments expressed fears that they are losing elk and deer to wolves. Several said they “opposed the reintroduction of wolves in Oregon in the first place.” One wrote, “The animals breed like mice and will spread like wildfire. They serve no useful purpose to our ecosystem.” Another hunter admitted that his desire for delisting, “…may partially come from a selfish viewpoint.”
A brief email from Dave Mech is included in the ODFW literature. Mech writes that delisting is warranted and that Oregon wolves should be considered a part of the Rocky Mountain wolf population, one that is thriving and under adequate legal protection.
There was an editorial published in the Statesman Journal on November 4, 2015 that brings up a good summarizing point. Chris Albert, a DVM from Kentucky, wrote, “Perhaps wolf advocates wouldn’t be so worried about delisting wolves in Oregon if delisting hadn’t been so hard on wolves everywhere else.”
This is so true, and speaks to a far sightedness that the delisting decision does not adhere to. If Oregon follows the path of every other state and province that has denied protections for wolves we can expect a future of massive wolf “management” in the form of lethal control and liberal hunting and trapping. Delisting is only the first step. Mech’s comment that surrounding wolf populations are “legally well protected” is at the very least, an arguable one, one that sees wolves as dispensable as clay pigeons.
The antiquated thinking that emphasis only numbers disregards all evidence that wolves form close knit family groups and that the loss of family members impairs the family group in ways we are only beginning to understand. Alaskan biologist Gordon Haber understood, but his innovative beliefs are still rare in the scientific world.
I have faith in the strength of wonderful groups like Oregon Wild, Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands, as well as the multitude of individuals who will continue to stand strong in protecting Oregon’s wolves. We may have lost this battle, but the entire future of wolves is ahead and will be won.
I was honored to be a part of the first Crater Lake Wolf Rendezvous organized by Oregon Wild. Click below to read the article detailing the wonderful weekend. I imagine this will become an annual event. Why don’t you join us next time!
The final night of the first Oregon Wild Crater Lake Wolf Rendezvous. Debriefing time. Jonathan Jelen, Development Director for Oregon Wild, tells the eleven of us sitting in a tight circle around a crackling campfire that we need to relish our victories in the wolf world, as things don’t always go well. He’s right; wolf advocacy is often fraught with disappointment as we battle the mythology and misinformation that surrounds Canis lupus. Yet throughout this event, camped along the Rogue River or on excursions nearby, we enjoyed four productive and memorable days together, learning about wolves and building friendships with like-minded people. This is the kind of success that keeps us going.
Here is a sneak peak at a new film by Earthjustice that is scheduled for release Wednesday September 9, 2015. This hauntingly beautiful film explores wolves relationship with humans and is called ‘Fable of the Wolf’