Northwest braces itself for wolves

Wild predators are ready to reintroduce themselves to Oregon

  • RUNNING FOR THE BORDER: An alpha female gray wolf of the Whitehawk Pack, Challis National Forest, Idaho

    Isaac Babcock
 

BEND, Ore. - Images of wolves played on video screens as people filed into the meeting room at the National Guard Armory. Ranchers wearing cowboy hats and Wranglers shook their heads and scowled. Others, in fleece coats, ski hats and down jackets, greeted each other with hearty smiles and cheered at the thought of hearing a wolf howl break the Oregon night.

All told, about 200 people came to this Nov. 20 meeting - one of 14 "town hall" meetings across the state - to tell the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife their thoughts on the wolf packs that are expected to migrate into the state within the next few months. Although the Oregonians at the Bend meeting were on their best behavior, emotions ran high as the two sides squared off in what could become the next big wildlife debate of the Northwest.

Once prolific throughout the country, wolves were extirpated in Oregon by the 1950s. Now, a dramatic comeback under way in the Northern Rockies - officials estimate there are about 700 wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming (HCN, 5/27/02: Wolf at the door) - has set the stage for some boundary pushing. Unconfirmed wolf sightings in Oregon are on the rise and at least three of the animals have come to the state in recent years. One wearing a radio collar was trapped and returned to Idaho in 1999. Two others were killed in 2000: A motorist hit a wolf near Baker City and someone illegally shot another south of Pendleton.

At the Bend meeting, Prineville rancher Ray Sessler worried that wolf attacks on his livestock could spell the end of his operation. "I already feed the deer and elk that come onto my property and eat my hay, and I don't mind that," he said. "But I don't feel I should be put in a position where I should sacrifice my cattle for the wolves."

Ready or not

The impending arrival of the wild predators exacerbates the political divide between the two sides of Oregon.

"All the environmentalists (in Portland and Eugene) think it is great that wolves will be in Oregon, but they won't have to deal with the animals," says Glen Stonebrink, executive director of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, whose members are concentrated in traditionally conservative eastern Oregon. "If they want wolves, let them have them just outside Portland."

"Wolves are coming to Oregon whether ranchers like it or not," says Brent Fenty of the Oregon Natural Desert Association. Fenty's group is one that is trying to soften the blow, however. He says that the Desert Association is poised to help ranchers get out of the business by buying up their public-lands grazing permits.

The national group Defenders of Wildlife also works to minimize resentments from ranchers by compensating them for livestock killed by wolves. It has also kicked off a new program aimed at preventing conflict before wolves even appear: The group provides ranchers with "proactive funds" to build electric fences, hire employees to monitor the range, buy guard dogs, and set up "radio-activated guard boxes" - devices that pick up the radio signals from collared wolves, then blare loud noises to scare them off.

According to Nancy Weiss, Western director of species conservation for Defenders, these tools help ease tensions between environmentalists and ranchers. "With individual ranchers, it's starting to get a little easier. In Idaho, you can't comprehend the bridge-building that's going on," she says. "It's our hope that ranchers in the Northern Rockies will spread the word, that if people would just work together, they could tolerate living with wolves."

A wolf by any other name

But the return of wolves to Oregon will be a different game than it has been in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

Reintroduced wolves in the Northern Rockies are considered "non-essential, experimental," under the federal Endangered Species Act, which means they can be killed for preying on livestock. But when they reach Oregon, because they are coming without human help, they will be protected as "endangered." This means state officials have less flexibility, and ranchers will be prosecuted and sometimes fined if they shoot the animals.

That could change as early as the end of this year: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is hoping to downgrade the wolves' status to "threatened," then remove them from the list altogether. Once removed from the federal list, wolves will still be protected under the Oregon Endangered Species Act. But the state is planning to a draft a management plan - based on comments from the meetings and information from national wolf experts - which could call for taking the animals off the state endangered species list.

One way or the other, most everyone agrees it's only a matter of time before the wolves arrive. As Idaho packs press out of the Rocky Mountain wilderness in search of new territory and mates, the natural direction will be toward the rugged and rural eastern parts of Washington and Oregon.

"Wolves belong in the Northwest as much as salmon do," says Joe Scott, conservation director of the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance. "We must seek to recover wolves wherever suitable habitat exists, for the sake of the species and these ecosystems."

You can contact ...

  • Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, 541/963-2138, www.dfw.state.or.us;
  • Oregon Cattlemen's Association, 503/361-8941, www.orbeef.org/oca.htm;
  • Oregon Natural Desert Association, 541/330-2638,www.onda.org;
  • Defenders of Wildlife, 541/772-WOLF, www.defenders.org.
High Country News Classifieds
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Friends of Cedar Mesa is hiring a Deputy Director/COO who will have the overall responsibilities of general program management, staff management, financial & budget management,...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • OFFICE ADMINISTRATOR AND BOOKKEEPER
    Posted: July 19, 2021 Application deadline: August 27 or until position is filled. Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking a fulltime Office Administrator...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Posted: July 15, 2021 Application deadline: August 21, 2021 or until position is filled Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking three full time...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT EDITOR
    High Country News (HCN) seeks an audience editor to attract and acquire new audiences and deepen engagement with them - in our newsletters, on our...
  • COMMUNITY MARKETER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Marketer to build and strengthen relationships between HCN and other organizations and individuals, with the aim...
  • FINANCE & OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Job Announcement: Finance and Operations Manager Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Development Director Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August 9, 2021...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • HECHO NEW MEXICO SENIOR FIELD COORDINATOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. This position is part of our...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is dedicated to saving the lands and waters on which all life depends. For more than 30 years, TNC has...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, CLIMATE AND ENERGY PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-climate-energy-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Climate and Energy Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Climate and Energy Program Director Location: Helena, Montana; other...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, WILDLANDS AND WILDLIFE PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-wildlands-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Director Location: Portland or Eugene,...
  • DISCOUNT SOLAR PANELS
    New w/25 year warranty. Shipped anywhere in the lower 48. Minimum order of 10 units. Call, text or email for current prices. .50-.80/ watt