Carter Niemeyer looked over the crowd at Cozmic Pizza in Eugene, Oregon on Tuesday evening and remarked, “I don’t see any Stetsons here tonight.” Sure enough, this was a much different audience than Carter faced when I saw him in Yreka, California two months ago. The people who came to this Oregon Wild sponsored event were positively pro-wolf, and judging by their smart questions, they were well informed as well.
Carter didn’t use a power point for this lecture, instead he started off with a brief overview of his life in the wolf world, beginning in the mid-1980’s when he was a government trapper in Montana, then in the mid 1990’s when he was instrumental in the reintroduction efforts in Yellowstone National Park (YNP) and Idaho. In 2000 Carter served as Idaho wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Although retired in 2006 he keeps himself very busy educating people about wolves. In Carter’s words he’s become “… more of an anthropologist than a biologist.”
The crowd, eating pizza and drinking beer, then heard some vital statistics regarding the wolf-livestock predation issue. According to Carter only 1/4th of 1% of livestock deaths in the Rocky Mountain States can be attributed to wolves. And for the hunters who believe wolves are eating all the elk, evidence shows us that despite healthy wolf populations, both Idaho and Montana are well over management objectives of elk numbers. In all, Carter said, there’s over one million elk in the U.S., plenty for the wolves and the hunters.
So what’s the problem? It’s certainly not the wolves; in Carter’s words “…it’s the hate and animosity that surrounds them.” And because of this phenomenon, decisions about wolves have shifted “…from science management to political management.”
Carter’s quick to praise those who adhere to science rather than paranoia regarding wolves and he included in this group Russ Morgan, Wolf Coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and his team for the work they’re doing in northeast Oregon. On the other hand, he stated, “Wildlife Services has not been living up to their responsibility.”
Because of the efforts of ODFW and Oregon Wild and other advocacy groups, wolves in our state have done so well they’re dispersing widely. Oregon 7, or Journey, is the first wolf in California for nearly a hundred years. When asked what Journey’s chances are, a wandering wolf in a wolfless state, Carter said that although Journey has not been implicated in any livestock depredations in northern California, “He’s in dangerous country,” and “I don’t know what he’s going to contribute to wolf society other than staying alive.”
Rob Klavins, Wildlands and Wildlife Advocate with Oregon Wild, took the stage next and filled us in on Oregon wolf history, including a timeline of wolves returning to the state, facts on livestock predation, and the status of the judicial hold order preventing the execution of Journey’s father and brother. Rob also inspired us with a discussion of the intrinsic value of wolves in the environment, and his power point cited a couple of profound quotes. One by Aldo Leopold, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community.” Another by Mollie Beattie, a powerful wolf advocate during the YNP reintroductions and first woman to head the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Sadly, she died at only 49 years of age. Her wise words were: “What a country chooses to save is what a country chooses to say about itself.”
Questions could have kept us there for hours and it would have been time well spent. One, asked by my daughter, Hannah Hartsell, was why western culture is so at war with wolves, when native ones have coexisted with them for centuries. Both Carter and Rob spoke to this, Carter discussing the Great Lakes wolf situation, where wolves will be hunted this fall. He mentioned that the Ojibway Indians in Minnesota have asserted that they want no wolves killed on their reservation. But their words have met deaf ears; their lands will not be excluded from this fall’s hunts. Rob discussed what people see in wolves, an animal that cares for its family, eats what it kills, protects its pack, and all this may make some folks a little uncomfortable when they view the contrast between their own behavior and that of a four-legged beast.
Someone in the crowd asked Carter to howl and he did, a little croaky at first, like he was a wolf returning from a silent retreat, but then he settled into a practiced and melodious howl, one that would surely fool any canine within ear shot. The audience loved it, and I imagine many will copy Carter’s call when they visit Wallowa County to look for wolves.
It was a truly inspiring evening, one that opened the imagination to a promising future for wolves in our state. My mind went so far as to envision a great experiment. What if Oregon, the progressive place we are, were to never allow sport hunting or trapping of our wolves, even once they reach the numbers deemed recovered in the wolf plan? We could mirror Isle Royale, where wolves have managed their own numbers for years, and YNP, where wolves have also kept their population under control. Because of public pressure, cougar hunting was banned in California, so perhaps this idea is not so farfetched. And at a time when Montana and Idaho are planning for further devastation of their wolf populations, I can’t think of a better goal. But with about two dozen known wolves and three breeding packs in the state already, we’d better start now.