Wolves are coming: Learn to live with them

Federal and state wildlife biologists have long predicted that wolves would cross the Snake River from Idaho and inhabit northeast Oregon, eastern Washington and ultimately the Olympic Peninsula. Population pressure would eventually cause them to move west into the Cascades, south to the Siskiyous and west to the coastal range.

From there, the wolves would move north and south to the Kalmiopsis and Trinity/Yola Boly wildernesses. United States fish and game wildlife biologists and Defenders of Wildlife biologists identify this area as being able to support the second largest wolf population in the western United States next to the northern Rocky Mountains. This area could support as many as 522 wolves. Someday we will again hear wolf howls from the mountains around us. That, I think, is a good thing. More than 70 percent of the American public believe that wolves should be restored to their natural habitat wherever and whenever possible.

The biologists were right. We now have at least one viable breeding pack in the Blue Mountains, and maybe more. There are at least five other crossings that we know of, only one of which is still alive. Two were killed by persons unknown. Defenders of Wildlife are prepared to pay a $7,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for either killing.

Young male and female adult wolves that travel, looking to find a mate and establish their own territory, are called "lone dispersers." There are reports that a lone disperser was seen in the Santiam Pass between Bend and Eugene.

Federal and state wildlife officials differ in their opinion about this sighting. Federal officials believe it to be a wild wolf, while state officials think it might be a hybrid or "pet" set loose. It is not relevant what this sighting is. The wolves are coming. It is not a matter of if they are coming, but when.

The northern Rocky Mountains have the largest monitored population of wolves in the world. Domestic stock predation by wolves is less than 5 percent of the total kill. Coyotes, cougars, and bears kill far more stock than wolves.

Defenders of Wildlife (the organization responsible for the reintroduction and monitoring of wolves in Yellowstone, the northern Rockies and elsewhere) has two private trusts available to help it protect ranchers from predation and to compensate them for stock loss from stock killed by wolves and grizzly bears.

The Bailey Wildlife Foundation Proactive Carnivore Conservation Fund is used to educate and help ranchers avoid predator/prey contact through a variety of education programs including, but not limited to, payment for outriders and the purchase of large stock dogs. Wildlife biologists know that predators will avoid stock protected by large barking dogs, much the same as criminals in big cities tend to avoid properties with barking dogs. They will go somewhere easier. Predators are opportunists. Wounded or hurt predators are usually dead predators. Nature is not very forgiving.

The Bailey Wildlife Foundation Wolf Compensation Trust has paid ranchers, from 1987 through 2007, almost $1 million for stock killed by wolves and grizzly bears. While no one wants stock killed by predators, the ranchers are compensated at full value, which minimizes or eliminates their financial losses.

Yellowstone proved beyond a doubt, the law of unpredictable consequences. When wolves were exterminated, there were many environmental consequences. The reintroduction of the top-end predator had as many beneficial changes. Examples are: much healthier prey stock (wolves tend to take old, sick or injured prey), flourishing riparian areas and a dramatic increase in songbirds.

The wolves are coming. Wolves, ranchers and the public are all stakeholders in this process and we all need to work together to minimize stress and enhance the benefit in this transition.

Chris Thompson lives in Ashland.

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