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.