I’m not complaining, but the way the wolf world is changing in these parts is making me feel old. I find myself making remarks like, “I remember the day when wolves were long gone from Oregon.” And, “Before last week, it seemed like a pipe dream to imagine a family of wolves residing in California.” I remind myself of an old timer, talking about the past like I’ve lived through the industrial revolution or the advent of computer technology.
But there have been enormous and rapid changes in the wolf situation in Oregon and California. Just eight years ago a wolf was found shot in Union County in northeast Oregon and ODFW wolf coordinator, Russ Morgan was quoted as saying, “It’s important for people to be thinking about the possibility of wolves in their area and to understand how to respond. It is illegal to shoot a wolf, even one mistaken for another animal. Hunters in particular need to identify their target before shooting because wolves can look similar to coyotes.” This hapless wolf had been preceded by four others, no doubt all of them migrants from Idaho. One was returned to Idaho in 1999 and two others were found dead in 2000, one shot, the other hit by a vehicle. But they kept coming back and in July of 2008, the Wenaha pack produced what is believed to have been the first litter of wild wolves born in the state for over 60 years. About this same time, B300, or Sophie, soon followed by OR 4, ditched Idaho for Oregon and started the Imnaha pack. The rest is history.
Of course, with available prey and a large enough area to roam, wolves do have a high reproductive potential. The current Oregon wolf population alone proves that. ODFW reported a minimum of 77 wolves in their most recent count, including eleven packs, at least eight of them breeding. There were also five known pairs that were not yet designated as packs. And Areas of Known Wolf Activity (AKWA) continue to pop up. This month two new areas were reported.
Yet the dispersal of wolves seems to be fed by forces other than simply their ability to reproduce. They are returning to the landscape in many parts of the world, not just Oregon and northern California. They peek their noses into Iowa and Colorado and Utah, where they invariably end up dead. “Oh, I thought it was a coyote!” Over the last several years we’ve read of the return of Canis lupus to Germany (the last wolf was shot there in 1904), and their populations have risen in Italy, Spain, Portugal and France. The Netherlands recently saw their first wolf since 1869. And, as if it were still the 1800s, some of the same paranoia and dissention surrounds their return. One group called the Sicherheit und Artenschutz (Security and Species Protection) Association campaigned to shoot wolves on sight because they were sure the animals were going to attack the first human they came across.
I haven’t heard of anyone succumbing to the jaws of a wolf in Germany, but to paint an accurate picture, their return has not been without problems. When wolves first began to enter eastern Germany from Poland there were several hits on livestock. A 2013 article in The Independent reported that in 2002, one farmer lost 33 sheep in two nights. Since then, non-lethal measures, including guard dogs and electric fences have minimized depredations according to the article.
The movement of wolves into southern Oregon and now California has been so far, so good. Journey, the leader of the odyssey, has not been implicated in a single livestock death. Nor have any other wolves. Fingers crossed. And here’s hoping that ranchers are being proactive in protecting their property.
Despite a steady increase in the human population and the accompanying urban sprawl, wolves are returning to places where they haven’t lived for centuries, contributing to a renewal of a natural and balanced environment. Perhaps this time, with an attitude of tolerance and understanding that should prevail with all the available science, they will be allowed to stay.