by Deborah Steele Hazen
In the summer of 1973 I visited Yellowstone National Park during a road trip with a friend.
We stayed overnight at the Old Faithful Lodge, then spent the next day touring various attractions, viewing wildlife and observing the stupidity of some tourists – feeding bears out of motor homes, surrounding a huge bull elk for a photo op, etc.
We timed our drive south towards Jackson Hole, Wyo. badly, and it was fully dark as we drove down a straight lonely road, lined with trees on both sides.
Suddenly, a huge gray canine streaked across the two-lane highway in front of us, fully illumined by our headlights. We could see its pointed ears and long muzzle outlined against the darkness. It was roughly three-feet high at the shoulder and well over six-feet long, counting its tail. It was traveling fast and disappeared in the woods on the side of the road as suddenly as it had appeared.
My friend and I turned to each other in shock. We had seen a lot of wildlife on our trip. We were both familiar with coyotes and knew this animal dwarfed a coyote. It was clearly a canine.
“That was a wolf!” we both cried out.
Feeling kind of spooked, we continued down the highway a few more miles until we reached the ranger station at the southern entrance to Yellowstone.
We told the ranger what we’d seen and described it to him. “It couldn’t have been a wolf,” he said dismissively. “There haven’t been any wolves around here for years.”
When we tried to explain that it really couldn’t have been anything else, he suggested we’d probably mistaken it for a deer or an antelope, perhaps maybe even a cougar. We knew different. It was a wolf.
Ironically, 1973 was the year of the passage of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the reintroduction of gray wolves into the northern continental United States began (officially) the next year.
Yes, the ESA which has reeked havoc with our timber, fishing and agricultural communities in favor of the spotted owl and the voracious sea lions, is now bringing the wolf back to Oregon. And, the wolves probably won’t be prowling through the streets of Portland, it will be the rural people – again – who will have to contend with them, lose their livestock to them, let them decimate the elk and deer herds. Then, when the elk and deer become endangered, will we have to try to bring them back without harming the wolf packs, similar to what we’re doing with the salmon and the sea lions?
When are rural Oregonians going to be listed as an endangered species?
After being considered nearly extinct in the “lower 48” in 1973, the pro-wolf groups now estimate there are over 9,000 wolves in the northern tier of states from Michigan west to eastern Oregon and Washington. Just five years ago, they set that number at 5,000, and it is in their interests to under-estimate.
A decade ago, there were no known wolves in Oregon. Now there are four confirmed packs in eastern Oregon with 29 documented members, but even the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) acknowledges that there are more. One of those 29 collared wolves – a lone wolf male – went wandering last fall from Oregon’s northeastern corner across Central Oregon to the Umpqua Valley in southern Oregon and, notably, on the west side of the Cascades.
Idaho’s wolf population grew from about three dozen in 1996 to an estimated 800 today.
Oregon’s wolf management plan provides for wolves to naturally disperse across the state. Take note that in the summation which follows of the recent Oregon Animal Damage Management Council’s Wolf Symposium held in Albany on May 12, one of the experts predicted that within four to seven years, wolves would be harassing elk in the Jewell Wildlife Meadows.
If you don’t find that frightening, we think you should.
What’s more, the State of Washington’s wolf management plan, finalized in December, calls for the establishment of wolf populations in various portions of the state including the southern Cascades and southwest Washington coastal area. That’s right across the river from us, folks.
If deer from the Julia Butler Hansen Wildlife Refuge near Cathlamet can swim across the Columbia via the various islands in the Westport/Clatskanie area – which is part of the official management plan for the Columbian white-tailed deer – will not the wolves enjoy a bit of a swim with their picnic lunch?
“The Coming Storm…”
We are indebted to Dan Stadeli, a member of the Oregon Hunters Association (OHA) and the Safari Club International (SCI), for the following detailed summary of information presented at the recent Wolf Symposium.
A Silverton area resident and a friend of local members of the OHA, Stadeli described the symposium as “a very well organized and informative meeting with approximately 250 people in attendance. Participants ranged from the anti-hunting groups to ranchers, outfitters, sportsman, hunters, state police, county sheriff, and others from Canada, Alaska, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.”
Stadeli’s summary of the symposium continued:
“It is hard to relay eight hours of information in an e-mail that would do justice to those dedicated individuals who are attempting to inform Oregonians of the coming storm regarding wolves in Oregon. I will try to relay the most significant and meaningful topics and issues that were discussed.
“As far as the individual speakers and their presentations were concerned, I was most impressed by David Allen, the president of RMEF (Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation). He is a very down to earth guy who spoke, not from a prepared speech, but rather from his gut. In a nutshell, he stated the following regarding wolves in the lower 48:
“1. They are here.
“2. They are not going away.
“3. The future is now.
“4. They are wildlife just like elk.
“5. Their primary prey or food preference is elk and each wolf will consume an average of 25 elk per year.
“6. In 1995, all parties involved in the reintroduction were aware and agreed to their coexistence with other wildlife. However, at that moment and place in time, science and honesty prevailed in the agreement and consensus that the maximum number of wolves would be 15 breeding pairs and 150 total wolves. Since 1995, however, there is no new science being used and there is no honesty or integrity to uphold this agreement. There is no longer any respect among the original partners.
“7) There is no attempt, desire, or intention to control the wolf expansion by the USFWS (United States Fish and Wildlife Service).The only hope for curbed expansion is for local state control.
“8. Dr. David Mech, wolf biologist, estimated in 2008 there were over 3,000 wolves in the tri-state area (Idaho, Wyoming, Montana).
“9. They expand their numbers by approximately 30 percent every year.
“10. Packs without collars are not numbered or ‘known.’
“11. They will/can travel up to 43 miles in a 24-hour period looking for a food source.
“2. The world famous northern Yellowstone elk herd numbered 20,000 in 1995 (one year prior to wolf reintroduction). The winter 2012 count posts a staggering decline with only 4,100 elk left!
“13. The famous Bitterroot (elk) herd has been reduced over 80 percent with devastating future consequences of an aging herd with little or no calf and yearling survival.
“14. The Lolo (elk) herd in northern Idaho has been decimated to less than 20 percent of its 1995 level.
“15. The once famous moose numbers from Jackson Hole, Wyo. to Butte, Mont. are gone.
“16. We need to remove wildlife management from politics and allow only fact- based science and honesty to control outcomes.
“17. The next battle is grizzly bears.
“Dr. Val Geist of the University of Calgary had the following to say:
“1. Refusal of American scientists to review the historical knowledge of wolves and why they were eradicated, or greatly reduced in many parts of the world in the past may lead to severe disease outbreaks or other catastrophic problems.
“2. Problem wolves must be immediately discharged to prevent any abnormal human-wolf conflicts.
“3. France had approximately 3,000 people who indirectly died from wolf-related disease and illness.
“4. The Utopian view of the modern wolf, being a loving social creature who lives only in the deep dark forest, is the result of the Walt Disney movie generation.
“5. Wolf-related disease is currently held in balance due to Alaska and Canada’s aggressive predator control measures.
“6 Wolf scat that is near or in the vicinity of domestic activity raises grave concerns of humans contracting tape worms that can lead to fatal brain cysts.
“7. Humans have historically been on the menu of wolves.
“The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) director Roy Elicker had the following to say:
“1. The Oregon wolf plan is the single biggest program the department has worked on.
“2. The wolf budget is currently at $608,000 and is continuing to outgrow funding.
“3. There are 29 ‘known’ wolves in Oregon.
“4. Wolves have been spotted in nine different northeast Oregon game management units (GMU).
“5. There are currently four established packs: Wenaha Pack, Imnaha Pack, Walla Walla Pack and Snake River Pack with possibly two other packs forming in the Minam River area and the Umatilla River area.
“6. Currently there are no known breeding pairs. The Oregon wolf plan ultimately calls for 14 breeding pairs. (This is the alarming part: Without a documented three-year period of established multiple breeding pairs we cannot manage their numbers).
“7. The Wenaha GMU elk numbers are currently 1,800 and way below the MO (management objective) of 4,250.
“8. The Wenaha GMU is referred to as the ‘predator pit’ by ODFW personnel.
“Casey Anderson of the Ox Ranch in Idaho had the following to say:
“1. Only seven to 10 percent of wolf livestock depredation is documented and/or compensated.
“2. They have GPS (global positioning system) collar data that shows wolf/cattle harassment on a continual and escalating basis.
“3. One wolf pack had a 210-square mile area that they would roam and patrol.
“4. Every known wolf needs to be captured and collared to allow 100 percent tracking and data collection of all wolf expansion and activity.
“Steven Mealey, retired director of Idaho Fish and Game and acting vice president of the Boone and Crockett Club, had the following to say:
“1. The North American Wildlife Conservation (NAWC) model as we know it is in jeopardy.
“2. The universities are now graduating biologists with an interest in wolf conservation and expansion and moving from a consumptive to a retention based ungulate management style. (Ungulates are hoofed mammals which would include wildlife such as deer, elk, moose, antelope, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, etc.)
“3. ‘Red Flags’:
“a) Declining hunter participation;
“b) Declining deer and elk populations;
“c) Increasing predator population;
“d) Overstressed winter ranges.
“4. Two must-do’s to protect collapse of the NAWC model:
“a) We must recruit more young hunters;
“b) We must maintain healthy and plentiful ungulate populations to encourage hunter participation.
“In conclusion,” Stadeli wrote in his summary of the recent wolf symposium, “I am convinced that this is only the beginning of our troubles in Oregon. We already have a top heavy predator problem with just cougars and bears. Throw approximately 250 to 500 wolves in the Northeast corner of the state and we can predict what will happen. One expert was quoted as saying that within four to seven years we will have wolves harassing the elk preserve in Jewell.
“For myself in this regard, I will continue to recruit and support youth participation in our hunting heritage and traditions. Also, I intend to write letters to all of our legislators, hunting associations and others to ask for and promote funding to expand the GPS wolf collar program.
“The closer we monitor these buggers the further and sooner we will be able to push them back. I appreciate your concern in this manner and look forward to future hunting adventures and memories. Please consider joining and/or supporting the following associations which are all working together to continue to provide hunting opportunities in Oregon. OHA (Oregon Hunters Association), SCI (Safari Club International), RMEF (Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation), FNAWS (Foundation for North American Wild Sheep), OCA (Oregon Cattlemen’s Association).”