By Donna Harris D.V.M
Guest Columnist 

Putting out the welcome mat for wolves

 

Last updated 5/24/2022 at Noon



Imagine hiking in the Metolius Basin, and suddenly in the distance you spot two canines romping, playing tag with a stick, and pouncing on each other like playful pups. Why are they running around loose without their owners? But wait... something is different about them. They have long legs, heavy bodies, and seem to weigh almost 100 pounds. Their hair coat resembles that of a malamute, but their tails do not curl up over their backs.

Amazingly, you have witnessed a pair of wolves playing like dogs! They suddenly detect your presence and vanish in an instant.

Wolves have finally returned to Central Oregon after disappearing almost 80 years ago. By the 1940s, decades of indiscriminate hunting, trapping, and poisoning had eliminated wolves from the lower 48. With their reintroduction in Yellowstone National Park and Idaho in 1995-96, wolves have dispersed to other states, including Oregon. Currently there are 21 known wolf packs in Oregon, with a wolf pack defined as four or more wolves traveling together in winter. Two dispersed wolves are now confirmed in Central Oregon’s Metolius Basin. The nearest known wolf pack is the White River Pack.

Welcome back to Central Oregon!

A wolf sighting is rare.

Humans are their greatest predator, so they fear us.

Males weigh an average of 100 pounds and females 80 pounds.

Their average life span is only 2 to 5 years.

The breeding pair, known as the alpha pair, will be the only ones of the pack to breed, as this social structure allows for the greatest chance of survival of the litter.

Pack size ranges from five to eight individuals.

Being highly adaptable, they can live from desert habitat to the Arctic.

Being fiercely loyal to their family pack, they defend their territory, sometimes to their deaths, from other packs.

They possess tremendous stamina and are capable of breaking track through snow for 20 to 30 miles a day in search of food.

Our U.S. Public Trust Doctrine declares that wildlife and natural resources belong to the public. The government is tasked with protecting these. This public ownership means that nature and wildlife should not be viewed as a commodity nor a dispensable “resource.”

Wolves contribute positively to making an ecosystem healthy.

However, some states, through legislative action, have disregarded this doctrine, allowing wolves to be killed by any means possible.

Fragmentation of a pack through indiscriminate killing disrupts the pack’s social structure.

In the short term, pack members that survive may only be immature, which impairs their hunting success of their natural prey of elk and deer.

Having only immature wolves left to take down a 500- to 900-pound elk may be impossible.

Instead they might gravitate to hunting livestock.

In the long term, any lethal removal of the alpha breeding pair may cause disintegration of the pack’s hierarchy, allowing for multiple lower level wolves to breed, which can substantially increase litters of pups, requiring greater efforts to support all the extra mouths.

Their focus again may turn to livestock.

Indiscriminate killing bodes badly for the wolves, and for livestock owners.

On a positive note, there are no cattle allotments in the Metolius Basin.

Let us welcome the wolves back to their historic habitat and allow them to coexist with us so they can be a positive influence on Central Oregon’s landscape. Having the Endangered Species Act reinstated in February 2022, for gray wolves residing in Oregon, west of Highway 395, will offer more protections for our Central Oregon wolves.

 

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