Decade of a Wolf

Journey pic

I’m busy these days, my focus on a fiction project. Fiction is a nice reprieve from the tedious research required for much of my writing. But I’m not too busy to remember that OR-7, also known as Journey, turned ten years old this spring. He’s been alive for a decade now and nearly all of that time has been spent in Southern Oregon with his Rogue pack, raising litters of pups and doing what a wolf has to do to survive.

A recent article in the Medford Mail Tribune reminded me again of the anniversary of Journey’s birth as well as the time line of his travels and the world-wide publicity he created. The article also details the livestock kills attributed to the Rogue pack and the controversy that has ensued. The article does show both sides of the story. However, one is left with the impression that Journey and his pack have turned a corner and what value they once had has diminished as the numbers of dead cattle rises.

There are some who would categorically agree that the Rogue pack holds no value, but I’m not one of them. While I have always maintained a great deal of empathy for those whose livestock have been lost to wolves, the inherent worth of Canis lupus persists, despite the fact that they don’t always behave as we wish they would.

The value of the gray wolf lies in a somewhat intangible reality that we can’t always understand or prove, other than in isolated studies, such as in the Lamar Valley. Much of what we understand about wolves comes from Yellowstone and it makes sense that we can extrapolate at least some of this knowledge to other locations. Wolves in Yellowstone keep prey populations in check. The animals they kill provide nutrients to a host of other species. Wolves reduced the coyote population which led to a resurgence of pronghorns. In the Lamar Valley, damaged riparian zones were rejuvenated with the help of wolves, at least according to most sources. And of course, ecotourism greatly increased with the return of Canis lupus.

WOLF OR 7 2-26-16_OR7gray

However, no research has proven the benefit of this apex predator in the forests and mountains of southwestern Oregon or northern California, and we may not see this data for years, if ever. Are wolves likely to change the landscape here? Will they have a provable positive influence on the deer and elk herds? Will wolf tracking and viewing become a commodity? Perhaps, but we should not wait for this data to accept the fact that wolves are here to stay and that their presence is important.

To believe the above statement may take a leap of faith and a far different way of looking at the situation. Objectivity comes to mind, a position of stepping back, even if ones current situation is affected, and looking both to the past and to the future of the planet. Gray wolves, their existence traced back to over a million years, were once widespread across the continents. As we all know, they were purposefully eliminated from much of their habitat, primarily within the last hundred years. For reasons unknown they are returning to their native lands, not only here but in Europe and elsewhere. They are now found in Finland, Norway, France, Germany, and many other places, and all locations are dealing with conflict similar to the U.S. For whatever reason, forces greater than ours are encouraging the dispersal and re-population of these animals. With the exception of Isle Royale, and of course, Yellowstone and Central Idaho, I don’t believe human intervention has been responsible for the movement of gray wolves back to their original habitats. It’s just happening, and will likely continue to happen. One might even say it is supposed to happen.

Argument can be made that our immediate human need outweighs any such force of nature, especially when we know wolves can and do occasionally kill livestock. However, this is short-sighted and selfish. It’s the same type of thinking that leads to pollution of our land, water, and air, massive deforestation, the extinction of species, global warming. The list goes on. The overconsumption and misuse of natural resource, including wildlife, invariably stems from some human need or desire, whether it be for money, safety, or status. The cause may be realistic or it may be misguided, but the outcome is the same. Nature and the future of the environment take second place to what we want or think we need right now.

sketch of howling wolf in frame

It would be a tremendous stretch for many people to put their fears, prejudices, and even their financial concerns, aside long enough to consider that a species, any species, can be valuable and necessary without our full understanding of why. But I’m in good company when I suggest such an ideal. Luigi Boitani, renown Italian wolf biologist, interviewed in 2015 about the return of wolves to Europe for Spiegel magazine, was asked why we should have wolves back in the first place. His succinct and perfect answer was, “Why are there butterflies, dogs and cats? I refuse to have to justify the existence of a species.”

Let’s hope that in the decade to come wolves continue to repopulate their native lands, including in Oregon and California. We can also hope that we humans, if not increasing our understanding, will at least come to accept the intelligence of nature and not require justification for the survival of its species.



Book image

Journey: The Amazing Story of OR-7, the Oregon Wolf that Made History, is available at books stores and online.









3 thoughts on “Decade of a Wolf

  1. I agree with Val Geist who knows more about wolves than anyone on this site. Wolves do not belong in settled areas. They are bad for wildlife, bad for livestock and bad for pets. They are even bad for wolves. How? Bringing wolves into settled areas leads to hybridization with dogs. Eventually there will be no wolves but rather hybrid wolf-dogs. I saw one of these beast running with a wolf about a month ago close to my house. I couldn’t shoot it because it was on the reservation.

    I have seen wolves move in and all wildlife disappears. I used to have deer come to my house every day, night and day. I haven’t seen a deer in almost three months, not even on my trail camera. Even the pheasant numbers are way down which surprised me. Geist said it was common. Wolves kill everything or at least chase it away. He says they created what is called a predator pit. Surplus killing is not as uncommon as some people would like to believe. No, wolves do not kill just the sick and injured. They kill anything they can catch and sometimes they kill for fun and do not eat what they kill despite what the propagandist say.

    I was all for the reintroduction of wolves having spent most of my life in Alaska I didn’t see it as a big deal. However Alaska is different. There is virtually no livestock industry there and most of Alaska is true wilderness. And if the wolf population becomes too large they use aerial hunting to reduce it. Where I live now you can shoot 10 wolves are year and they are open year around on private land. Good luck even getting one. Most are shot incidental to other hunting.

    On my neighbor’s ranch he has had several head of cattle killed by wolves. The state reimburses him IF he gets them out to the carcass before it has been contaminated by other predators. He says the compensation is fair but one cow disappeared completely, probably dragged down into the canyon somewhere. He wasn’t compensated for that one.

    How many people reading your column have wolves in their backyards like I do? It is funny how these people think it is fine to have wolves so long as they are in Idaho or some other western state. Well wolves were native to 49 states. Why not have them in your backyard. See if you don’t feel differently when you can’t leave your dog out at night, that is if you care about him. Children? Oh, the wolf people say no one has ever been killed by a wolf. Yeah, ask Candice Berner’s parents about that. Actually thousands of people have been killed by wolves through the years. Not many in the US because, well there weren’t any wolves in most places until recently. You can’t be killed by something that doesn’t exist. When there were wolves everywhere few people went out unarmed and some that did were killed by wolves. No less a person than James Audubon reported on such a kill.

    Last summer a woman was treed in Washington state by wolves. Fortunately for her she was in cell phone coverage and called for help. A helicopter chase the wolves away.

    You people should read Val Geist to get another view. He is not a wolf hater, he’s a realist. A very well known biologist. It amuses me how the left claims they believe in science when it comes to global warming but when it comes to wildlife management they believe in emotion, giving wild animals names to anthropomorphize them.

    I bet you didn’t know that Native American controlled wolf numbers, i.e., they killed them so they wouldn’t destroy wildlife. It’s true. In fact in some areas they still hunt them down in their dens and kill the pups.

    Wolves are fine in Alaska and parts of Canada. They don’t belong here. I never thought I would heard wolves howling in my damn backyard. And here comes the Wolf Moon this month. They are really going to be crazy.


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