On the Loss of Wolves

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OR 4 ODFW photo

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.

wolf-304410_640Several 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.

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19 thoughts on “On the Loss of Wolves

  1. Beautifully written expression of the sentiments shared by those of us who love these animals and are deeply saddened by their deaths at the hands of humans.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you Beckie for your beautiful words on the loss of our beloved wolves.
    I can’t help but think this killing would have been avoided if the ranchers that own over 3 million head of cattle could be more responsible for their possessions. Using taxpayer money to deliberately exterminate our barely surviving native carnivores is a misuse of our resources.
    I stopped eating meat about 4 years ago when I realized the correlation between losing our wildlife and the irresponsibility the industry of raising and slaughtering cattle for human consumption really has added up to be in the end. I just don’t need a hamburger to live and I am totally unwilling to trade it for the life of a wolf.
    Last week Camilla Fox of Project Coyote held a workshop for sheep and cattle ranchers to present a non lethal /coexistent model for the Marin/Sonoma county ranchers. It was an informative and interactive forum with a great discussion on all sorts of respect and responsibility models for using dogs, electric fencing, fox lights, llamas etc. that have shown success and degrees thereof.
    Regular folks are starting to pay attention to their lifestyles and are paying attention to the ranching industry and if they are responsible ranchers or not. Are they “predator friendly” ? do they take good care of their stock? Are they good stewards of the land? And there was a great deal of discussion re the many many benefits of native carnivores ( or ecosystem engineers, as I like to call them) such as rodent control and carbon sequestering. Can we measure those benefits against the methane that is a constant from the cattle and a major pollutant ?… Can we measure how much we lose when we kill a native carnivore? Why not measure by pollutant standards 3 million cattle vs 100 wolves ? Obviously, we have not done our homework in this area and we are thinking backwards heading towards a stampede that will take all of us down.
    I feel we need to institute a responsibility index the ranchers take for their own possessions.
    Shouldn’t we all know before we kill the wolves and coyotes if the rancher should be held accountable?
    Shouldn’t there be a posting for all ranchers like it is for all of us when we park our cars to take a hike these days”please don’t leave valuables in the car” ?

    So much more to say, but I will stop here and have many moments of silence for the beautiful family of 4 wolves that lost their precious lives this week for somebody’s hamburger.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are spot on. Meat consumption has a direct correlation with the killing of these wolves. I would say I don’t understand why people can’t put that relationship together but I do understand. Nobody wants to give up that hamburger so that the wolves can live normal lives. Everyone just wants to shed a tear for the cattle ranchers and hope that something changes. Not eating beef, going vegetarian/vegan is that change that we can all do without leaving home. Thank you for this comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Lovely piece, Becky. It is an act of extraordinary balance, compassion and honesty to write of these events played out in public, condoned by science, but rarely, authentically explored by the hearts of those concerned. You write with a gentle touch, honoring the sensitivities and realities, without resigning to them. I feel represented; I think there are many others who will find their truths mirrored in your voice. Good work.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Beckie, your writing helps me to stifle the hatred and lack of respect I harbor for the state killers. Shall I forgive them “for they no not what they do”? Not likely, as they are doing the bidding of the ranchers. Man continues to destroy the environment under the guise of protecting one thing or another. I am certain the ranching crowd were gleeful at the news. Justus Reid

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear Beckie, thank you for writing this heartfelt enlightening and thought provoking tragic piece so eloquently. The tragedy is it will continue no matter the state, no matter the wolves, no matter humans role in prempting it. There is a little to no tolerance policy and wolves are of no value to decision-makers.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dear Beckie,
    Your wise words are a heartfelt memorial to the loss of the four Imnaha wolf family. Thank you. Images of the Crater Lake Wolf Rendezvous group’s campfire convesations are flickering in my memory as I type these words.

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  7. Becky, Thank you so much for this heartfelt, beautifully written piece. I think you have spoken for so many of us, all saddened and discouraged….wondering how it came to this – if it could have been prevented – how can we improve the situation – and what are our individual roles in that process. It does somehow help, very much, to know that our feelings are shared by others….and that the way forward is a collective effort. Would love to talk to you more sometime….wished we lived closer and could get together for coffee Stephanie C

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  8. Thank you very much for this piece. The answer is actually quite plain: Compensate the reprehensible ranchers and leave it at that. There is no reason in the world that those beautiful, essential animals should have been blown away. Humans should not come first—we are just another species on the earth, and not as special as we’d like to think. But I’m glad to see that others understand the distinct connection between consuming animal products and blatant and abominable massacres like this.

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  9. Beckie,

    I am pretty new to your blog, only having read the last several posts. I really appreciate your thoughts though and I am sad to hear about this loss too. I am from Minnesota and moved out to Seattle last year and have been getting used to the area and the wildlife concerns. Minnesota is very caught up trying to protect wolves as well and essentially from the same people that want to kill them out in Oregon.

    I just wanted to share with you these two lectures on animal issues that has resonated with me. Before I saw them I was a hunter and a wolf supporter, to name a few things that defined me. Now I have a different view of how humans and animals can and should interact!

    All the best,

    Melanie Joy: Carnism – The Psychology of Eating Meat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vWbV9FPo_Q

    Gary Yourofsky – The Best Speech You Will Ever Hear: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=es6U00LMmC4

    Liked by 1 person

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