Wolves Return to Oregon and California: But Protecting Them May Prove Difficult

OR-16 wolf recently killed in Idaho.

Twenty-five wildlife conservation, education and protection organizations in California, Oregon and Washington have formed an alliance committed to recovering wolves across the region.

The Pacific Wolf Coalition’s mission is to ensure wolf recovery in the West. They envision populations of wolves restored across their historic habitats in numbers that will allow them to re-establish their critical role in nature and ensure their long-term survival.

“The Pacific Wolf Coalition formed to unify efforts to restore wolf populations here in our region and to demonstrate that wolves and people can coexist,” said Josh Laughlin with Cascadia Wildlands. “Working together we can give wolves a fighting chance to naturally return to their native lands in the western states.”

The announcement of the formation of the Pacific Wolf Coalition last December coincided with the one-year anniversary of the first wolf, OR-7, in California in nearly 90 years. OR-7, affectionately dubbed “Journey” for having already wandered more than 1,000 miles, was born in Oregon, a member of the Imnaha pack, the first wolf pack in Oregon in over sixty years.

Wolves in Oregon

Gray wolves (Canis lupus) were once common in Oregon, occupying most of the state. But, as Barry Lopez wrote in “Of Wolves and Men,” Americans viewed wolves as “an object of pathological hatred.” The motive for wiping out wolves, as opposed to controlling them, Lopez wrote, “proceeded from misunderstanding, from illusions of what constituted sport, from strident attachment to private property, from ignorance and irrational hatred.”Regardless of the motive, through trapping, poisoning and shooting, government agents and bounty hunters killed off the last gray wolf in Oregon in 1947.

By 2000, wolves from Idaho and British Columbia were slipping more and more frequently into the large tracts of wilderness and roadless areas of Northeastern Oregon. By 2008 pups were confirmed to an Oregon wolf in the Imnaha Pack. Oregon’s wolf population I now up to six known packs (all breeding pairs) and a total of 46 wolves.

“The return of wolves to the northern Rockies has been a remarkable success story, and now we have a chance to write an exciting new chapter in the Pacific West,” said Pamela Flick with Defenders of Wildlife. “We look forward to using our decades of experience to forge new partnerships with landowners that will allow people and wolves to coexist.”

Map courtesy of Cascadia Wildlands.

Recovery Remains Tenuous

“We’ve made tremendous strides in wolf recovery thanks in large part to our nation’s landmark environmental laws. However, recovery remains tenuous,” said Rob Klavins with Oregon Wild. “To make sure there are enough wolves to play their irreplaceable role on the Pacific Northwest landscape, they need to retain the basic protections afforded by the Endangered Species Act.”

The Pacific Wolf Coalition has come together at the same time that the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency charged under the federal Endangered Species Act with wolf recovery, is considering removing protections for wolves in the lower 48 states. This is not without precedent, in 2011 legislation attached as a “rider” to a budget bill delisted wolves as endangered species in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming—this marked the first time Congress has forcibly removed a species’ endangered status. It may not be the last time. Even though wolves are only just beginning to recover, a federal delisting could allow all states to follow Idaho’s dubious footsteps in allowing quota-less hunting and trapping seasons for wolves.

The Pacific Wolf Coalition supports continued federal protections for wolves in the western states and in other regions across the country where they haven’t recovered.

“Residents and visitors alike love the Pacific West for its natural wild beauty and the wildlife that lives here. Restoring native species is crucial to that wild beauty, and wolves are no exception. Protections should remain in place to allow these animals to recover,” said Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity.

As wolves return to the Pacific West states of California, Oregon and Washington, the member organizations of the Pacific Wolf Coalition believe they do so on a vastly different social, political and ecological landscape than other parts of the country.

“We have unique opportunities and challenges here in the West,” said Joseph Vaile with Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “The Pacific Wolf Coalition is working together to raise awareness and increase public understanding about wolves and the important role they play in nature, and ensure that wolves will be conserved in our region over the long term.”

by Nathaniel Brodie