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home : columns : columns June 28, 2016

6/3/2014 1:27:00 PM
The wandering wolves
How things have changed: 100 years ago that wolf would be dead and skinned. This one is just sleeping and undergoing a physical by an ODFW wildlife biologist  and will wake up wearing a radio collar. photo courtesy ODFW 2014/Oregon Wolf Conservation 2013
+ click to enlarge
How things have changed: 100 years ago that wolf would be dead and skinned. This one is just sleeping and undergoing a physical by an ODFW wildlife biologist and will wake up wearing a radio collar. photo courtesy ODFW 2014/Oregon Wolf Conservation 2013

By Jim Anderson

The information spreading across the nation about, "OR-7," a gray wolf (Canis lupus) that was captured, examined and equipped with a radio transmitter in Oregon, don't tell us "the rest of the story."

The accompanying picture does tell the story of the evolution of Man's attitude regarding wolves.

No one would have the slightest idea of the wanderings of "Journey" AKA OR-7, without the federal endangered species ruling on the release of wolves in Wyoming in 1995. To accomplish that a lot of changes in attitude took place among wildlife agencies and ranchers of the West.

The gray wolf is a BIG canid, (and our first "true dog"). In size, they're anywhere from a little over two feet to three feet at the shoulder, and tip the scales from 100 to 130 pounds, depending on sex, with the males bigger than females. They are known as one of the best natural tools to manage elk and deer populations that have begun to destroy their habitat.

That killing ability led to their demise in the late 1800s and early 1900s at the hands of livestock raisers, especially the wool-growing community.

Once the wolf-killers discovered they were easy to kill, they were all but exterminated from the Lower 48. They were mercilessly killed by shooters from airplanes, poisoned, trapped and shot by ranchers and fur-trappers all over the West. Alaska and Canada and some hidden lands in western Montana became the last refuge for the The Big Bad Wolf.

In 1973, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the northern Rocky Mountain wolf (gray wolf, Canis lupus) as an endangered species and designated Greater Yellowstone as one of the recovery areas. It was from the reservoirs in Canada and western Montana that 41 wolves were captured and released in Yellowstone Park - to keep the elk from eating themselves out of house and home.

The sport-hunting community could hardly wait for the wolves to do what humans are really good at - reproducing their kind. Sure enough, in a short time there were 400 to 450 hungry wolves with Idaho elk herds (and cows) on their mind, along with about twice that many worried cattlemen and wool-growers.

Idaho Fish and Game manages wolves as a big-game species and has a general hunting season with tags available over the counter.

With the growing population of wolves and a bunch of angry ranchers concerned about wolf-kills on livestock, the USF&W decided it was time to scrap the endangered status of the wolves and hope the Western states would take over management.

Oregon jumped in with both feet, both hands, and an ample budget to hire researchers and their tools prior to the first wolves crossing over from Idaho into Wallowa Country, and they remained listed as endangered under the Oregon Endangered Species Act.

Wolves wandering around west of Oregon highways 395/78 and 95 enjoy federal and state protection; wolves enjoyed a wide distribution, and soon numbered to 64 individuals in eight packs.

There is no season on wolves in Oregon.

In February 2011, wildlife biologists from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife attached radio collars to several wolves in the Imnaha pack (Oregon's first wolf pack since wolves were reintroduced). One of them - a year-old male - is now our famous OR-7.

His wanderings are well-documented, but suffice to say, Crater Lake was pulling on his reins, thus making it pretty clear he preferred Oregon to California.

Now everyone in on OR-7's behavior is convinced he's found a sweetie Oregon lady wolf to howl at, and admirers are expecting them to give us three or four pups - and cause a few more gray hairs on the stockman's heads in the Ashland Country.

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