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Eugene Weekly : Coverstory : 12.20.2008

 

Return of the Wolf?

Conflicts arise as the predators come back to Oregon

By Cali Bagby

Once his tongue touched my lips, I felt calm, no longer afraid to lean in closer. 

Then two more wolves crowded the chain link fence separating human from animal, eager to kiss me too. At the White Wolf Sanctuary in Tidewater, Ore., touching a creature that is meant to roam free in an Arctic terrain is strange and wonderful. Tidewater’s sanctuary is one of several safe places that provide shelter to wolves in the Pacific Northwest. 

These rescued animals have found an unlikely home in Oregon, a state that has hosted more controversial issues surrounding wild wolves than actual wild wolves. Only recently have howls echoed in Eastern Oregon’s forests. At a time when cities grow and wilderness areas shrink, how will residents deal with a predator returning into a habitat that has become less natural? As Oregonians anticipate living with the wolf, what baggage does this controversial creature bring?

The Return of the Wolf

A young wolf greets visitors at the White Wolf Sanctuary

This summer several howls led wildlife biologists to determine that at least two adults and two pups had moved into the state. This wolf pack has something to howl about considering their species was wiped out of the area in the mid-1940s. Since then only a handful of wolves have crossed over the Snake River from Idaho. Before this year, wolves that entered Oregon didn’t have much luck in making a permanent home. In March 1999, another radio-collared gray wolf was captured and quickly whisked back to Idaho. In 2000, a collared wolf was killed along I-84 near Baker City, and an uncollared wolf died from a gunshot wound between the Ukiah and Pendleton areas. Seven years later a female wolf died from gunshot in Union County. Most recently in January a radio-collared gray wolf was sighted near the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area. 

Due to the earlier wolf activity, Oregon adopted a Wolf Management Plan in 2005. Stakeholders in the plan varied from the Oregon Woolgrowers to the Nez Perce Tribe to Defenders of Wildlife. Eugene’s Cascadia Wildlands Project attended hearings and contributed oral testimony and written comment. In March of 2008, Northern Rocky Mountain wolves were de-listed from the federal Endangered Species List, which includes the eastern third of Oregon, but in early July a preliminary injunction was granted to restore federal wolf protections. Currently wolves are state-listed, and federal action will not have a major sway on Oregon wolf management. 

Biologist Russ Morgan in La Grande wants to trap wolves in order to collar and monitor them. The ODFWS is asking that any wolf-sightings or problems be directed to Morgan. ODFW urges hunters to keep dogs on a leash if they see any sign of wolves. Wolf pups can look very much like coyotes, and it is necessary that hunters not shoot unless they are absolutely certain of their target, according to the agency. Livestock owners can use loud noises to dissuade a wolf from coming onto their property, but it is illegal to take any sort of lethal measures to deter a wolf — even if it is caught with livestock. 

“At this point if they suspect depredation, they should treat it like a crime scene,” says Michelle Dennehy, wildlife spokesperson for ODFW. “Secure that area so we can investigate.” According to the ODFWS’s website, “Do not move or disturb evidence; preserve wolf tracks, hair or scat by covering with plywood, weighted-down empty coffee cans or other material that won’t ruin the evidence; cover the carcass or any remains with a secured tarp to preserve them.” Yet it will take more then a few helpful hints to ensure a symbiotic relationship between human and wolf.

Some Oregonians find it difficult to even think about wolves entering the state. “If wolves are allowed to migrate to Oregon not only as federally protected species but as a state endangered species, it will not only devastate ranchers, it will be a body blow to states’ rights, local government rights and individual rights,” said Sharon Beck, who served as the Oregon Cattlemens’ Association Wolf Task Force co-chair, speaking at the Oregon Bar Association in 2005. “We know wolves will eat wild ungulates to the point that regional hunting seasons will be terminated; they will eat livestock to the point that individual operations will no longer be viable.” 

Dennehy sympathizes with the dilemmas Beck describes, which affect people today, as the Oregon wolf population becomes a reality. “Some people have legitimate concerns,” says Dennehy. “At this point if a wolf is attacking livestock they can’t do anything.” The Oregon Wool Growers, Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and Oregon Hunters Association, all of whom have expressed concern about wolf reintroduction, did not return EW calls and emails about the issue.

 For others it is hard to imagine predators living in a landscape dominated by livestock. “As long as we have cattle, sheep and goats on vast amounts of land we won’t have true wolf recovery,” says Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense in Eugene. “Cattle should be removed off of public lands, not just for wolves, but for all wildlife.” Fahy has a problem with grazing land located in the middle of nowhere, in an area that closely resembles wilderness, deprived of proper surveillance. “Give predators the benefit of the doubt if you’re not out riding herds, doing what ranchers used to do out there following the sheep,” says Fahy. “If you have livestock on open range there should be husbandry.” According to Fahy social disruption also plays into the conflicts with animals. “When you hunt coyotes, you disrupt social order and throw them into a social flux,” says Fahy. “They start breeding at a year old with larger litters and therefore more mouths to feed, which encourages them to feed on livestock.” 

Finding the balance between controlling predators and allowing them live and act as they would naturally is still up for debate. “We want wolves recovered,” says Dennehy. “We want to take it slow, but once wolves are recovered we’d like to have the tools to deal with conflict like we do with cougars, grizzlies and coyotes.” 

Cascade Wildlands Project is a plaintiff in a lawsuit that recently succeeded in halting the de-listing of the wolf, which will stop the hunting of these animals this fall. Fahy is also against the killing of predators, especially when they are killed as mere trophies. “Did we bring these animals back to kill them?” asks Fahy. 

Big Bad Wolves?

The controversy about whether or not wolves belong in Oregon can be traced back to the roots of our country’s heritage. In Alvin M. Josephy Jr.’s book Nez Perce Country, he writes, “The wolf has always been a symbol of strength, hunting prowess, and power. The wolf’s hunting calls were often heard in the forests of our homeland and their exploits were recounted in our stories.” 

The Nez Perce may continue to embrace the symbol of the wolf, but European descendents have a different view of the creature’s role in history. “Historical misunderstandings have always enshrouded the gray wolf. During the dark ages the wolf was heavily persecuted as being associated with the devil,” says Josh Laughlin, conservation director of the Cascadia Wildlands Project, “The negative perception around the grey wolf moved west as settlers came into America and it is something that continues to shadow the wolf to this day.” The myths of werewolves terrorizing mere mortals in Europe during the 1500’s and the 1600’s may have also attributed to the wolf’s negative stereotype.

The actual threat of wolves attacking humans seems to be projected as more dangerous in theory than in fact. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s website states, “Wolf attacks on humans are extremely rare in North America, even in Canada and Alaska where there are consistently large wolf populations. Most documented attacks have been in areas where wolves habituated to people when they were fed by people or attracted to garbage.” There has only been one fatal attack by a healthy wolf recorded in North America and it was in a remote area in northern Saskatchewan.

There are many positive aspects the wolf has on the environment that people are not aware of because the wolf is absent from the land. Before the wolf was reintroduced into Yellowstone Park masses of elk were destroying the willow and aspen trees that beavers need to make their dams. At the White Wolf Sanctuary visitors eagerly wait to get up close with the wolves, but listen patiently as Lois Tulleners White, owner of the sanctuary, educates on the positive aspects of wolves returning to Yellowstone Park. Tulleners White’s goals for White Wolf Sanctuary are to have the best conditions available for rescued wolves and wolves in the wild and to support public officials that will protect wildlife. “Now the wolf is back, the beaver is back, the trees are back because the elk are hunted and not overgrazing, hanging out with their beer and remote at waterways,” says Tulleners White. “Now the elk go and drop seeds in their feces in the forest.” 

During the talk she has to stop for a moment because the wolves begin to howl. It is a cacophony of primordial sounds that one can only imagine hearing in the forests of Oregon. All at once it is silent again, but now there is a reminder of what is missing. Unfortunately, the howling may be a determent to the wolf population because they may be easier to hunt. “If you howl, they’ll howl right back,” says Tulleners White as the educational talk comes to an end and we prepare to approach the wolves. 

Tulleners White speaks in loving coos as she walks slowly to the fence, where the wolves eagerly come to greet her. As other visitors approach she watches them carefully as a mother would look after someone handling her newborn. Despite the fact that Tulleners White has given ten wolves 40 acres to run about, she lowers her voice when she gazes at her fenced in wolves. “It is a reminder that what once was wild no longer is wild,” she says. 

What lies in the future for the wolf? The species will not be reintroduced by a government agency, but will be allowed to spill over the border as Idaho’s wolf population flourishes. The wolf’s future remains unknown. “We eventually will have packs of wolves, whether anyone likes it or not,” says Fahy. Laughlin is hopeful that the Wolf Management Plan, with its diversity of stakeholders, will allow the wolf population to grow. 

“We want an Oregon that has all the critters that were here long ago. We want to see grizzlies, gray wolves, creeks choked with salmon and forests restored,” says Laughlin. “This is all possible especially because there is so much interest in wildlife and a healthy planet. I believe the reason people moved to the Pacific Northwest is because it still has some wildlife. In five to 15 years, we could see packs of wolves howling in the backcountry.” 

For Fahy the howl of the wolf remains beautiful music. “I wish I could sit on my back porch and hear wolves howling. Just knowing they are there makes me feel more complete,” says Fahy. “We’ve altered the landscape so dramatically, but nature has the capacity to rebound if we give it a chance.”

Sanctuary

For now wolf sanctuaries may be the only way the public can get a closer look at wolves. Howling Acres Wolf Sanctuary in Williams, OR near Grant’s Pass is dedicated to the preservation and care of orphaned, abandoned, injured and wolves in need of medical attention. Howling Acres currently has 19 wolves and five hybrid wolves in residence on 13 acres of mountainous terrain. The sanctuary holds weekly tours in the hopes of encouraging the public to better understand a misunderstood animal. Wolf Haven, another safe shelter, is tucked into the forests of small town Tenino, WA located two hours north of Portland. On the guided tour with two other visitors I look into the eyes of gray, artic, Mexican gray and red wolves, as well as several coyotes and wolf-hybrids. Here two fences keep the wolves in and people out, which creates distance. 

At the first enclosure a female gray wolf lounges in the sun as the male wanders towards us and whines like a puppy. We stand in awe of his massive bulk, long legs and thick, beautiful fur. These wolves call Wolf Haven home. It is a place that works on protecting wolves that are wild and captive-born wolves that require a home, restoration of wolves into their native land and providing education to the public. Wolf Haven has rescued over 100 wolves from roadside zoos to animal collectors. People can even camp overnight at Wolf Haven after special events like the Wildlife Festival and Howl-ins.

As I leave Tidewater’s sanctuary with the other visitors, there is no howling to be heard. Yet the conflict exists even as one wolf family finds its way into Oregon’s wilderness. As I look out the car window one last time, one wolf stands by the fence watching as the cars pull away. His bright yellow eyes linger for a moment, looking in my direction, but then he quickly turns away and faces the small stretch of wilderness that has become his home. ew



Wolf Haven, White Wolf Sanctuary and Howling Acres are always looking for volunteers or donations to enrich their organizations. 

At Wolf Haven contact Cindy Irwin, Volunteer and Education Coordinator at 360 -264-4695 x 222 or cirwin@wolfhaven.org 

At White Wolf Sanctuary call 541-528-3588 or info@whitewolfsanctuary.com

At Howling Acres call 541-846-8962 or wolves@howlingacres.org

Contact the ODFW La Grande office at 541- 963-2138 for questions or concerns about wolf depredation.