News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

A dream job in wolf country

In your lifetime there are two odds of seeing a wolf in the wild: slim and none. Just ask Emily Weidner of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), a biologist based in Bend. She's made a career of tracking and monitoring wolf activity, and just saw her first live wolf three weeks ago.

I had the pleasure of meeting Weidner and her Oregon state counterpart, Aaron Bott, last week. We sat down at Angeline's before Bott and I struck out to check trail cameras near Sisters (see related story, page 1). Both are what you'd expect Hollywood might come up with for casting wolf biologists. Young, clear eyed, careful smiles. Relaxed but alert.

They are serious about their jobs but don't take themselves too seriously. They have lives other than wolves - or in Weidner's case sage grouse, her specialty. Bott and his wife live in Prineville and have four children, a 4-year-old and 2-year-old triplets.

"Three 2-year-olds is much scarier than wolves," Bott jokes as we strike off.

He and Weidner have exchanged notes, GPS locations, and swapped camera memory cards. She says that two of the three cameras we will be checking have had recent wolf activity, raising my excitement. Just seeing any on camera will be more than sufficient for me, knowing the odds of seeing one in person.

Bott has seen a lot of wolves, as he covers a land area comprising two-thirds of Oregon. He is one of four dedicated wolf biologists in the state. A dream job. In his spare time, such as it is - he's often gone weeks at a time and puts a thousand miles a week on his truck - he is working on his doctorate. About wolves, of course.

It's a bumpy ride once we get off Indian Ford Road and into Stevens Canyon. There's nobody in sight. No campers, loggers, hikers. Just us and the remote possibility of wolves or their prey.

When I say bumpy, I mean bone-jarring in some parts. I can hardly hold my camera, but Bott is hanging out his rolled-down window looking for wolf tracks. Sure enough, he finds them and we alight from the rig. They were almost impossible for me to see until I was within two feet.

Could it be my heart raced? Might I defy all the odds? Alas, no, but I was like a kindergartner on the first day of school when camera check two produced 15 seconds of crystal-clear footage of the Metolius pair. They had passed by the camera only two days before.

Bott is a walking encyclopedia on wolves, and I couldn't stop asking him questions to which he never tired of answering. Not methodically as an academic. He met my clear admiration and curiosity for wolves as a father might answer a child. I am twice Bott's age.

Tracking wolves turns out to be easier than I thought. Like humans, they mostly stay on the trail or road, not wasting energy bushwhacking. Just as we tend to do, they walk on the edge of the road where the footing is a little softer, not as compacted or rutted.

Bott's love for wolves is apparent but it's not sentimental. It's rooted in respect for their cunning and sociability; their place in history. Wolves are everywhere in the world, having arisen in the middle of the Great Ice Age about 1 million years ago from a lineage of smaller dog-like forms native to Eurasia.

The grey wolf was well established in North America by the time the first Native American and Inuit peoples came across the Beringia about 18,000 years ago.

Wolves in Oregon are controversial, and in some parts of the state they have to be removed by lethal means. Three weeks ago, four were removed from the Lookout Mountain Pack in Wallowa County. Two weeks ago in the same county, two from the Wildcat Pack were lethally removed due to depredation of


This too is part of Bott's job - keeping the peace between ranchers and the wolves. He finds ranchers are almost always unfailingly polite and interact with him respectfully. Many ranchers have a high degree of respect, even if grudgingly, for wolves, who are very wary of humans and are quite elusive.

Cameras as a means of entering into the wolves' world are old-school. Bott is in awe of newer audio technology that can capture much more data from a great distance. Every wolf, like a human, has a unique voice print. Listening systems can pick up in detail the number, sex, and general age of an entire pack.

My awe, however, is for two young, dedicated biologists often alone in the field living out their dream jobs. How many of us can say that of ourselves?


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