The feature story in the November 10th edition of HCN – Still Howling Wolf – asked: Will Westerners finally learn to live with Canis lupus? The article looks for the answer in the attitudes of a variety of Northern Rockies residents in light of a lawsuit that returned the gray wolf to federal Endangered Species Act protection and nixed state management plans in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. And while in the short term this has resulted in expressions of chagrin and hostility by trophy hunting guides and some ranchers, a careful reading of the story indicates that the wolves – if not the people whose lawsuit returned them to ESA protection - have achieved grudging acceptance by at least some of the very people who feel that wolves have negatively impacted their livelihoods.
Their reception in Oregon and Washington may not be as controversial as it has been in the Northern Rockies. The fact that wolves are recolonizing these states through natural migration and not human intervention may be one factor mitigating negative reactions. In addition, Oregon and Washington have been proactive; Oregon completed its wolf management plan in 2005 and Washington’s plan should be in place before 2010.
Another difference is that the Canis lupus is listed in these states under state endangered species laws which require protection, recovery goals and management plans.
The gray wolf has been gone so long from California that the species is not even included on The Fish & Game Department’s species lists. But that does not mean that wolves are not controversial there. Backed by scientific studies which found ample habitat and prey base, Defenders of Wildlife petitioned the federal government in 2002 to designate 16 million acres of national forests and parks in Northern California and southern Oregon as suitable wolf habitat for study and management purposes. The studies suggest the area could support as many as 500 gray wolves.
But Southern Oregon and Northern California - the Klamath Mountains (which I’ve called home since 1975), the Modoc Plateau, Southern Cascades and Warner Mountains – is a stronghold for the anti-environmental, county supremacy and property rights movements. Defenders 2002 call was not received well here and led to renewed calls for formation of the State of Jefferson as, among other things, a refuge for Old West style wolf management also known as “shoot and shovel”.
The trajectory of wolf management in the Northern Rockies, however, gives hope that even in remote Northern California and Southern Oregon Canis lupus may eventually gain acceptance - if only grudgingly - by ranchers and hunting guides. But the path to that eventuality may be as acrimonious and tortuous as it has been in the Northern Rockies.