News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Bringing back the howl of the wolf

“To be native to a place we must learn to speak its language,” wrote Robin Wall Kimmerer, in “Braiding Sweetgrass.”

Few of us in Sisters Country are natives. Most of us followed our wild instincts to disperse, travel, revel, and lay down roots in a new habitat. Living here, we learn the wild language of Sisters Country, and if we try, we can live in balance with it.

Paradoxically, while the natural splendor of Sisters Country draws us here, our very presence — even when peaceful — can render it less wild, less ecologically balanced. In the last century, humans significantly altered the seemingly healthy forest that surrounds us — the old growth cut, fires suppressed, wolves killed.

So, are our wild areas really wild?

When we listen to the wild language of Sisters Country, we don’t hear the howls of wolves. Less than a hundred years ago we could. We ask, can our efforts bring back this missing voice, so critical to learning the language of our home?

Cultures across the globe regard wolves as symbols of the wild. We believe a forest without wolves is not truly wild; not truly whole.

Like humans, wolves once populated habitats all over the world, including Oregon. Fear, hatred, misunderstanding, and U.S. government policy killed all wolves in Oregon by 1947. Due to a change of heart, wolves are back; and if you talk to a Camp Sherman local you just might hear a story of a recent wolf sighting.

Wolves are currently dispersing across Oregon. Our wild forests need wolves, just as we need our wild forests. We argue that we, too, need wolves.

Wolves and humans have coexisted in habitats across the globe for millennia. Like humans, wolves are cooperative and live in family groups (packs) that protect territory and invest greatly in their offspring. We are more similar than we are different; and share a vast majority of our genetic code. We are both generalists and can adapt easily to various habitats. We compete for food and territory.

We disperse. We travel. We play. We hunt. We cuddle. We howl.

We know wolves come through Sisters Country, but a pack has yet to settle here. We recently asked two local Forest Service wildlife biologists whether wolves would want to settle here. Both said that due to human impact, numbers of wolves’ prey, deer and elk, are significantly lower than in the past. There are a lot of humans in these parts; and wolves are rightly shy of humans.

So, maybe not. But maybe.

What can we do to welcome wolves back to their ancestral home? What can we do to rewild our forests? What can we do to rewild ourselves?

To explore about these questions and more we have created the Wolf Welcome Committee. We envision a time, in the near future, when wolves will be recovered in Sisters Country. Our goal is to encourage a climate of peaceful coexistence where wolves are welcomed by their human neighbors. Together, we will explore the intrinsic value of wolves, the benefits they bring to wild nature, and the important lessons they have to teach humans. When appropriate, we will advocate for non-lethal solutions to protect livestock.

Our first project is a book group in partnership with Paulina Springs Books. In the group we will read two newly released books: “Reign of Wolf 21: The Saga of Yellowstone’s Legendary Druid Pack,” by Rick McIntyre and “Yellowstone Wolves: Science and Discovery in the World’s First National Park,” editors Douglas W. Smith, Daniel R. MacNulty, Daniel R. Stahler.

We will discuss the books virtually on April 7, 6:30 p.m. and May 12, 6:30 p.m. All are welcome to join.

We will host two virtual events open to the public. On April 28, 6:30 p.m. we will facilitate a conversation with Rick McIntyre, the first wolf ranger in the National Park Service, now retired, and Kira Cassidy, wolf biologist. This is an exciting opportunity to interact directly with Rick McIntyre, who has spent more time observing wolves than anyone on earth.

We also will host a conversation with local and regional scientists examining the history and future of wolves in Central Oregon.

To be part of the group, visit Paulina Springs Books to sign up in person, or you can email us at [email protected]


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