Andy Kerr

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

Welcome Back the Wolf!

Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 2000. Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. pp. 51-53.

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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 made sense, does not today.

The last documented wolf kill in Oregon was in 1946. It is time to welcome back the wolf.

In 1999, one unattached female from an experimental population in Idaho roamed into Oregon nearly as far as US 395 in Oregon's Blue Mountains before being captured and returned "home." Perhaps she (biologist called her "B-45," but a better name is Eve) was home and humans just didn't know it. Hopefully this two-year-old female is the vanguard of an invasion.

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

Wolves are approaching Oregon from Washington and Idaho. A wolf litter was born in Idaho, about 60 miles from the Oregon border. While the Columbia River is a large impediment, it may not be a barrier. As Eve proved, the Snake River poses little challenge to an expanding wolf population looking to fill suitable habitat.

Wolves need large areas of undeveloped land with low human population levels, such as there are in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. The Oregon Desert, along with the Klamath, Cascade, and Blue Mountains, fits the bill.

While wolves were historically less common in the desert than in the forest, three subspecies of Canis lupus were thought to inhabit the Oregon Desert: fuscus in the western desert, remotus in the eastern desert, and possibly youngi in the southeast corner.

Deer, elk, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep all have been brought back from the brink. Unmanaged hunting and habitat degradation didn't help the game, nor the wild canines that preyed on them. Just as wild ungulates were brought back from the brink at the beginning of the twentieth century, large predators, such as wolves, should be brought back during the beginning of the twentyfirst century.

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

The biggest conflict in bringing back the wolf is the livestock industry A major cause of the extirpation of the wolf in 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 to degrade watersheds—all in the name of a pitifully small amount of the nation's beef production (again at the expense of the taxpayers).

Even though wolves will mostly stay on public land (because that's where most of the suitable habitat and prey will be), some will enter 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. (Defenders of Wildlife compensates ranchers for any livestock losses attributable to wolves.)

How to pay for the state agency's costs in bringing back the wolf? Sell "wolf stamps" and dedicate the proceeds 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 hack could buy deer and elk tags and assign their chance to kill big game to the wolves.

This is an excellent opportunity for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to prove that it manages all wildlife, not just the hunted.

Despite what you may have learned 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.

Some suggest 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 damaging.