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Oregon Wild Wolf Testimony

Oregon Wild Testimony to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission On the Draft Wolf Conservation and Management Plan

To the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission On the Draft Wolf Conservation and Management Plan

December 10, 2004

We would like to thank the members of the commission for the opportunity to speak to you today, and for your hard work in putting together and supporting the 14-member citizen advisory committee that developed the plan to bring wolves home to Oregon.

We Oregonians pride ourselves on being different from people in other states -- when we make a mistake, we correct it.  Sixty years ago we made a terrible mistake when we allowed the last wolf in Oregon to be shot to death under a misguided campaign of extermination.  Today we have an historic opportunity to correct this by welcoming wolves home to Oregon.

As noted on page 11 of the draft plan, 70% of Oregonians support the return of wolves to Oregon.  Just as Oregonians want wild salmon in our rivers, they want wolves roaming the wild forests, deserts, and canyons.  

Welcoming wolves home to Oregon would restore a vital piece of our natural heritage, and have tremendous benefits for the environment, but it will also provide other benefits.

Every year tens of thousands of visitors flock to destinations like Yellowstone National Park in hopes of catching a glimpse of a wolf, of hearing one howl in the night, or of simply seeing a fresh wolf track.  Those visitors bring with them millions of dollars for rural economies.  At a time when Oregon’s state government is working hard to boost our tourism industry by highlighting our state’s outstanding natural amenities, the return of wolves will afford another tremendous opportunity.

Oregonians have learned the hard way that the law of unintended consequences applies when it comes to the stewardship of our natural resources.  For a century we pursued a well-intentioned program to eliminate fire from our forests.  The results were disastrous.  By killing off wolves, we not only disrupted the natural balance of wildlife populations, but also degraded the productivity and health of our forests and grasslands.  As noted by OSU’s Dr. William Ripple in yesterday’s Associated Press story about this draft plan, "We are just at the very infancy of understanding the importance of these apex predators sitting at the top of the food chain affecting entire ecosystems."

A specific example of the unintended consequences of the campaign to kill off wolves in Oregon has been the expansion of coyote populations.  Coyotes kill an average of 222 cattle and 1408 sheep every year, and Oregon ranchers will spend thousands of dollars this year in an effort to control their populations.  Experience in Yellowstone and in Idaho has shown that one of the best ways to reduce coyote populations is bring back wolves.

When wolves kill livestock, Oregon Wild believes that it is absolutely essential to compensate livestock owners who experience losses due to predation by wolves.  As the draft plan notes, compensation not only address a fundamental fairness issue, but provides greater assurances that wolf populations will actually recover.

Oregon Wild also believes that a distinction needs to be drawn between wolves on public and private lands when it comes to conflict with livestock.  Public lands should be managed for the public interest, with the survival of native fish and wildlife among the top priorities.  If individual wolves cause damage to livestock on private lands repeatedly, then a range of options should be used to control their behavior.  In some cases it might be necessary to use lethal methods.  However, on publicly owned lands the restoration and survival of wolves should take priority over cows.

The plan points out that wolf populations in Idaho will serve as an “umbilical cord” for populations in Northwest Oregon.  While healthy populations of wolves in the Interior Mountain West may promote stable populations in the Wallowas, are four breeding pairs enough to provide the umbilical cord to the Siskiyous?  One of the fundamental principles in community ecology is that rarity is recipe for extinction.  Forty years after the end of a campaign to kill every wolf in Oregon, shouldn’t we allow more than the bare minimum back before slamming the door?

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"How much wilderness do the wilderness-lovers want? ask those who would mine and dig and cut and dam in such sanctuary spots as these. The answer is easy: Enough so that there will be in the years ahead a little relief, a little quiet, a little relaxation, for any of our increasing millions who need and want it."
        -- Wallace Stegner, This Is Dinosaur, 1955


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