Thanks for a great summer!
Wildlife and Wildlands intern Apple Goeckner recounts what she learned this summer while giving wolves a voice.
I am a little sad that this will be my last official blog post as the Wildlife and Wildlands intern for Summer 2012. It has been quite the busy summer for me, and I feel like I have both learned a lot and deepened my beliefs about wolves, the environment, state agencies, politics, and advocacy.
When I arrived, I had experience playing the role of an “advocate” in law school oral arguments. During those exercises I had to advocate for interests and industries I didn’t necessarily agree with or even feel strongly about. I did learn that it was important to be thoughtful and choose my words carefully. It was a lesson well learned, and being able to apply it in the real world to advocate for something I care deeply about provided valuable experience.
That’s especially true given that public interest groups like Oregon Wild are vastly outgunned by the deep pockets of the industries and interests we stand up to. For example, the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association (OCA) has an ex-legislator on the payroll as a lobbyist and pays a Pearl District PR firm to give them their public face. Environmental groups don’t come armed with lots of funding, we come armed with passion.
After digging deeper, I learned that for many the wolf issue goes beyond an animal being present in a particular place or livestock depredation. Right or wrong, for many it is also an issue about the government’s role in the management of wildlife and public lands. It is an issue about the value of allowing a native species the chance to recover after we killed them all in the past. For some it is about money and subsidies. It is an issue of changing realities, values, and ways of life.
I always knew the wolf issue was a deep one, but the more time I spend learning about wolves, the more ways I see it touches on so many aspects of life. And, I also see that I agree with all of those sentiments.
Before I worked for Oregon Wild, I thought that Oregon state agencies would be far more progressive. Coming from Illinois, a corrupt government was just an accepted fact. Though I am not indicating Blagojevich corruption here in Oregon, I thought the state would be more conducive to the values of the very environmentally friendly public it serves. But I have seen some of the state agencies play favorites to special interests like the Oregon Hunters Association (OHA) and the livestock industry in Oregon.
For example, despite their mission to conserve and manage wildlife for all Oregonians ODFW often sees hunters and anglers as their primary - if not exclusive - constituency. They have raffles for the hunters and attend events put on by the OHA. But, when we asked them to join us and a national news crew to film an educational piece for kids on wolves in Wallowa County, they declined. Officially it was because it was on a weekend. But…as just one example - just a few weeks earlier the agency sent two of it’s highest paid staff across the state to attend a controversial anti-Wolf Symposium put on by the OHA and the OCA. That happened to be on a weekend too. So why play favorites?
Looking to their budget, it is easy to see why ODFW listens primarily to consumptive interests. Most of their non-tax or federal money comes from licensing and tags, so it’s no wonder they don’t want to spend their resources on conservation of non-game species – especially those that may be controversial to some in the hunting community.
With so many Oregonians benefiting from conservation and participating in non-game recreation, it is a shame that they are so underrepresented by the agency in charge of wildlife. It doesn’t need to be this way, and I hope it will change. With hunting and fishing participation continuing to decline, it may simply have to.
All interests deserve a seat at the table, but no one set should own the table. And many in Oregon would argue conservation should come first.
The best part of my summer was getting hands on experience. I loved going out to Wallowa County, and I highly recommend the experience to anyone who loves the outdoors and beautiful landscapes. I thought I knew everything about wolves, but as I got to actually track them, I learned so much more.
I also had the opportunity to sit in on some negotiations with the state, and I got to see firsthand how the environmental community is trying to work in good faith and come to a workable compromise with the ODFW about how wolves are managed.
Conservationists want wolf recovery that works for everyone but have to take a stand against those who want to be too quick on the trigger and get back to the bad old days of killing wolves.
In hiking boots I was able to share the landscape with wolves and hear them howl. In a business suit I sat at the table where their fates were being decided. These experiences were very different, but equally beneficial. It put into perspective what my future may be if I continue to pursue wildlife law.
I have enjoyed operating on a state level, with state administrative rules and statutes. I am looking into a few other environmental projects this upcoming school year, one of them involving the Oregon Black Bear, so animals will always be on my mind.
Yesterday ODFW released a video of the Snake River Pack. It is a pup howling at his pack, and the pack howling back. It is not only one of the best clips I have ever seen of a wolf, but it was filmed here in Oregon! It reminded me of my experience hearing the wolves howl in Wallowa County, and really brought the summer full circle. Enjoy the video, and let the wolf pup remind you of why we love these creatures so much. They are playful, intelligent and social creatures. And their howl sounds like music to my ears!
And on an end note, those wolves howling in Oregon would not be here if it wasn’t for people like you and I, and organizations like Oregon Wild. We have a poster in the office of a bear with duct tape on his mouth that says “Bears don’t have a voice- but you do!” Wolves don’t have a voice either, let’s continue to give them a voice.
Thank you for a wonderful summer.