Oregon's small wolf population has grown to 77, and dispersers have migrated from the northeastern corner of the state. The most famous disperser, OR-7, created the first wolf pack in southwestern Oregon in 70 years. Another disperser, OR-25, migrated west into Oregon's northern Cascades and is now heading south. OR-22 dispersed southward, arrived in agricultural Grant County, and had ranchers fretting.
This natural process of growth by dispersal can continue; the state has more habitat suitable for wandering wolves. But whether those dispersers - and the rest of the state's vulnerable wolves - will continue to receive needed protection is uncertain.
Oregon's wolf population has reached a milestone that kickstarts the consideration of whether to delist wolves from the state's endangered species act. Delisting wolves makes them easier to kill, and livestock producer associations and their lobbyists push hard for delisting, preferring killing over coexisting. They may get their way.
This year the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will review the state's wolf plan and decide whether wolves should be delisted. Oregon has a new governor, Kate Brown, and she is shaping the commission in a dangerous way. Oregon Wild, a conservation organization, reported recently that Brown "struck a deal that would replace two Commissioners who have backgrounds in biology with special interest appointees who represent the very industries the agency is supposed to regulate." Packing the commission increases the odds that science will be ignored, special interests will be heard, and wolves will be delisted. The governor may find less resistance to such shenanigans because a budget of another watchdog organization, Cascadia Wildlands, is drying up.
A few years ago, Cascadia Wildlands fought in the legal battle to keep OR-7 and his father, OR-4, from being killed by state sharpshooters. Saved from slaughter, OR-7 dispersed to southwestern Oregon, found a mate, fathered three pups, and started the Rogue Pack. OR-7 and his mate may be denning with pups now. (Oregon counts pups in late June.)
Cascadia Wildlands has continued to fight. As reported by Willamette Week, the organization recently began battling with the US Forest Service about whether that agency should authorize commercial logging and road building on OR-7's home turf. Such activities could diminish the range of the Rogue pack, make the wolves vulnerable to the cars and hunters that use the new roads, and make it harder for the wolves to find deer and elk that have been spooked by increased human presence. The Forest Service has stonewalled the environmental group's request for documents, and Nick Cady of Cascadia Wildlands recently announced that they have spent the last of their legal budget and need donations to fund the battle to keep the Forest Service responsive and honest.
In Oregon, as elsewhere, while wolves do what comes naturally, political and economic forces beyond their control threaten their lives. Officials and agencies use taxpayers' money to weaken wolf protection; the watchdog organizations that fight for wolves must scrape by on donations. The politics and economics of wolf protection require citizens' time and money. Here's two ways you can help:
Rick Lamplugh is a wolf advocate and author of the Amazon Bestseller "In the Temple of Wolves: A Winter's Immersion in Wild Yellowstone." Available as ebook or paperback. Or as a signed copy from the author.
Top photo: OR-25