A "Journey" Through 2012
A year ago, Oregon's most famous wolves blazed a historic trail. Now the state stands at a crossroads.
Enora, an 8-year-old from Portland won an art contest in 2011 when she captured the spirit of Journey in his history making trek across the state
In 1999, a wolf known as B-45 swam the Snake River and became the first confirmed wolf in Oregon in over half a century. Panicked wildlife agencies quickly decided to tranquilize the animal and send her back to Idaho by helicopter.
With a little help from the public, the state agency charged with conserving wildlife (ODFW – Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) took a deep breath and charted a new course forward. That change allowed a very different story to take place exactly one year ago.
On December 28th, 2011, a wolf known to ODFW as OR-7 made history by leaving Oregon and becoming the first wolf in California in nearly a century. On his way we helped him gain well-earned international headlines and even a new name – Journey – through a children's naming contest that received submissions from Joseph to Josephine County, and from Korea to Kenya.
Americans celebrated a great conservation success story. Oregonians rightly took pride in their gift to California. Many commented on how far we'd come since the frontier days when killing wildlife and exhausting seemingly endless resources was the path towards riches and easy living.
Today we celebrate the one-year anniversary of a native species triumphant return to California. Unlike B-45, Journey was welcomed into California not by tranquilizers and traps, but by a state seemingly keen on ensuring meaningful wolf recovery. California is considering how to best provide basic protections and ensure recovery works for everyone.
Though he continues to stay away from people and hasn't had any luck finding a mate, we're pleased to report he is still doing well. The anniversary provides a good opportunity to look back on the last year and look ahead.
We're still waiting on official population estimates, but it’s possible we’ll look back on 2012 as the year wolf recovery really took hold in the state. When Journey became the first wolf in California, the number of known wolves in Oregon dropped to 28. But some were mothers nurturing future explorers.
Just a few months later, at least 25 pups were born in Oregon. Not all those young wolves have survived, but new packs have been confirmed and it's a near certainty the overall population rose significantly.
Meanwhile, a successful legal challenge meant the state had to stop killing endangered wolves on behalf of the livestock industry. After largely spinning its wheels for 13 years, wolf recovery finally gained traction. Not only that, but with the "easy" option of state-sponsored wolf killing off the table, reluctant members of the livestock industry joined others in making responsible changes to animal husbandry and more faithfully implementing non-lethal measures to reduce conflict.
In 2012, while Oregon's fragile wolf population nearly doubled, livestock losses were cut nearly in half!
Oregon demonstrated that killing wolves isn't necessary. Sadly, neighboring states demonstrated why it only creates conflict. Since wolves were stripped of their federal protections as an endangered species in the Northern Rockies, over 800 have been killed for sport in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.
Among the grisly death toll are the collared wolves of Yellowstone National Park and even Journey's brother – OR-9, pictured here – who was illegally shot in Idaho by a Halliburton employee who paid no fine for his transgression. Recent news of another Oregon wolf traveling to Idaho has Oregon's wildlife appreciators nervous.
Even Washington gave in to old prejudices and political pressure from powerful anti-wildlife voices in the livestock industry. At great cost to taxpayers, the state killed an entire pack by helicopter to assuage a single anti-wolf livestock operator running his cows on public lands.
The stories of wolf killing in the West rightly generated controversy while Oregon's wolf recovery quietly progressed. But it demonstrated how precarious the situation is.
Our state can no longer count on healthy populations or socially acceptable science-based management from neighboring states. When bald eagles were delisted from the protections of the Endangered Species Act, conservationists celebrated secure in the knowledge that our national symbol would be protected. When wolves – an equally charismatic social species still waiting to fill blank spots on the map - were delisted, it became open season for anyone with the desire to kill.
There's no reason Oregon has to go back to the wolf killing ways of Washington, open recreational hunting seasons like Idaho, or allow limitless killing like in most of Wyoming. If any state should do better, it's Oregon.
But nothing is certain.
Frustrated by their inability to kill wolves, anti-wolf activists, industry lawyers, and even some state leaders - including at ODFW - are actively fighting conservationists. The livestock industry and some anti-conservation hunting organizations are promising yet another round of anti-wolf legislation and backroom deals to weaken wildlife protections at the state level.
On the national level, Ken Salazar and the Obama administration are considering stripping basic federal protections from wolves across the country – including in Oregon.
With so much at stake, we were pleased to officially announce the formation of a growing coalition comprised of 25 wildlife conservation, education, and advocacy organizations committed to working together to ensure meaningful wolf recovery in the Pacific Northwest and California.
As wolves make their way into west coast states, they do so on a vastly different social, political, and ecological landscape than places like Idaho and Wyoming. We can – and should - do better here.
But it won't happen if Americans who value native wildlife don't stay involved and speak up. When GM was in trouble, DC snapped to attention. When Nike wanted a tax break all other business in Salem ground to a halt. That won't happen on its own even when our state's wildlife, wildlands, and waters are under threat.
Oregon is facing serious issues and far too many of our leaders view our long-term commitment to the world we live in as secondary. Anti-wolf activists and their political allies are hoping their attacks on Oregon's conservation values will fly under the radar.
Oregon's wolves have a vast, potential choir of support in the overwhelming majority of citizens who value native wildlife and have a stake in passing on a livable world to future generations. They have a new ally in the Pacific Wolf Coalition and they'll always have a staunch defender in Oregon Wild. However, they'll need more than that. In 2013, we'll need your voice and your support.
In the year since Journey left us, wolf numbers in Oregon have increased. Conflict and killing have been significantly reduced. Neighboring states chose a different path.
2013 will be a pivotal year.
We can throw away those gains by following the lead of states like Wyoming and Idaho with the state-sponsored killing of endangered wildlife. We can stall out wolf recovery again by continuing to wrestle with our good and bad angels like Washington. Or – as Oregon likes to do – we can blaze our own trail and show that we can do things better here.
With your help, I think Oregon can live up to its highest public values. I hope you'll prove me right.