The Wolves Among Us

ChimneyRock-Aug2009-1

   Tuesday 30 July 2019

In southern Oregon, state and federal wildlife agencies, joined by private conservation interests, have agreed to pool their money to build a 3-mile long, 6-foot high electric fence (Oregon Public Broadcasting story, 3 July 2019),. Total cost is estimated at $45,000, of which $6,000 will be private money. The reason: the wolf pack that is establishing itself in the area is responsible for killing eight cows and two dogs on one ranch. Various other methods of deterring the wolves have not been successful.

   This seems like a nice cooperative venture, and the rancher is apparently pleased with the possible solution to his problem. If any of his neighbors raise cattle, sheep, llamas, or any other livestock, they probably will not be as happy. Wolves are in the area, and wolves need to eat; if they can’t get inside the 6-foot electric fence, guess what they will do?

   Well, what’s done is done; wolves are here to stay. From planned wolf releases in Idaho, wolf packs have spread and established themselves in Washington, Oregon, and California. Right now, there are about 2,000 wolves in the four-state area. There is every reason to think that the only way their numbers will go is up, and the only direction their distribution will go is outward.

   Wolf advocacy groups are claiming that just about everybody likes what is happening with the wolf populations.  I doubt it. Despite good will efforts like the 3-mile fence, and payment for livestock lost, ranchers are not in business to raise food for wolves. Cries for more control, including eradication of local wolves, are heard regularly in the Northwest. People who grew up with stories of the Big Bad Wolf, and who panic when they find a coyote in their neighborhood, may like the romance of “bringing back the wolf” but will still be afraid of sharing their hiking trail or campsite with them.

   Although I spent much of my career working with endangered animals, trying to recover their populations, I never subscribed to the wolf introductions in the Northwest. We weren’t dealing with some unique gene pool; we were just on the southern periphery of a vast species range, an area that I think had changed too much ecologically, culturally and socially for the wolf to still be a good fit. Right or wrong, we have them now, and both we and they will have to live with both the intended and unintended consequences of our actions.

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© Sanford Wilbur 2019