Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

Welcome Back the Wolf

By Andy Kerr

Column #11 - Go to next column

745 words

Published: 19 December 1996, Wallowa County Chieftain

Since before Oregon became a territory, government has sought to eliminate the wolf in the name of protecting livestock. Such a policy, if it ever did make sense, doesn't today.

The last documented wolf kill in the state was in 1963. It's time to welcome back the wolf.

They might come back on their own, or they may already be here. There have been recent and numerous reports of wolves in Oregon, most often on the Rogue River National Forest. The presence of young suggest they may be reproducing. Are these a relic of the believed to be extinct Cascade timber wolf subspecies, or were they released by parties unknown, or have they moved in from elsewhere?

Wolves may well be approaching Oregon from the Washington and Idaho. A wolf litter was born in Idaho, about 60 miles from the Oregon border. While the Columbia River is a large barrier, the Snake River would pose little challenge to an expanding wolf population looking to populate additional habitat.

Wolves need large areas of undeveloped land with low human population levels. Oregon's Siskiyou, Cascade and Blue Mountains all fit the bill, along with the High Desert.

Deer, elk, pronghorn and bighorn sheep all have been brought back from very low levels. Unmanaged hunting and habitat degradation (there were five times as many livestock on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in 1911 than today) didn't help the game, nor the wild canines that preyed upon them. Just as wild ungulates were brought back from the brink at the beginning of the century, large predators should be brought back during the beginning of the next century.

The core of the wolf reintroduction zones would be wilderness, both formally protected and that still exists and should be. Road closures would help the wolf, as well as the taxpayers who can't afford to maintain the spaghetti network. Major roads should be left open for adequate access.

The biggest conflict in bringing back the wolf will be livestock. A major cause of the extirpation of the wolf from Oregon has been trapping, mostly paid for by the taxpayers, in the name of reducing livestock predation.

On the public lands, it is inappropriate to slaughter native wildlife, thereby aiding domestic livestock degrade watersheds—all in the name of an pitifully small amount of the nation's beef production (again at the expense of the taxpayers). To make the public lands (more than half of Oregon) more hospitable to the wolf, public land grazing permittees ought to be bought out at fair market value.

Even though wolves will mostly stay on public land (because that's were most of the suitable habitat and prey will be), some will come on to private lands and occasionally kill livestock. In such cases, the government should compensate the rancher, using funds saved from not funding trapping and poisoning on public lands.

It makes sense to invite wolves back for another reason. Roaming wolves who drift in will bring the protections of the Endangered Species Act with them. If a qualified reintroduction effort is undertaken, such wolves could be deemed an "experimental population" not subject to the Act. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife might have more flexibility in restoring the wolf to Oregon's wildlife mix.

How to pay for the state agency's costs in bringing back the wolf? Sell "wolf stamps" with the proceeds dedicated to reintroduction. It worked fantastically for ducks.

When the wolves return, they will eat some game species, especially deer and elk. Oregonians who want the wolf back could buy deer and elk tags and assign their chance to kill big game to the wolves.

This is an excellent opportunity for ODFW to prove that manages all wildlife, not just the hunted.

Despite what you may have been read as a child, wolves pose very little risk to humans. The benefits of once again hearing the howl of the wolf in the wild by far outweigh any downside.

It has been suggested that those who want to see wolves should go to Alaska, where they are very numerous and not in danger. By similar reasoning, those who want to see livestock could go back east, where they are very numerous and less dangerous.

America's first ecologist, Aldo Leopold said it best though: "Relegating wolves to Alaska is like relegating happiness to heaven. We may never get to either."

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