Wolves Are Returning to Oregon; We Should Allow Them a Home Here

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), January 16, 2005 | Go to article overview

Wolves Are Returning to Oregon; We Should Allow Them a Home Here


Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Josh Laughlin For The Register-Guard

At the time Oregon became a state in 1859, residents roamed the Willamette Valley, the Coast Range and the Cascades looking for wolves and banked $3 for every one shot dead. Nearly 50 years ago, this government-sanctioned bounty exterminated the last gray wolf (Canis lupis) in the state.

It wasn't just Oregon and the West that dealt this species a major blow. The last wolf in England was killed off in the early 1500s, and the forests of Scotland were burned to eradicate the species. The wolf has been demonized throughout history, in folklore and tales such as "Little Red Riding Hood" and the "Three Little Pigs."

With this sordid history, it is understandable that the wolf has been perceived as a ruthless killer, worthy of nothing more than a bullet in its head.

Oregonians are in a unique position to redefine their relationship with the gray wolf. After a successful federal reintroduction program in central Idaho nearly 10 years ago, the gray wolf is knocking on our door - and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, along with a 14-member stakeholder advisory committee, has drafted a plan to help this species recover across the entire state. Public comments in the draft wolf recovery plan are due by Feb. 4. The extent to which Oregonians can co-exist with the gray wolf will determine the success of this plan.

Becoming acquainted with this species is imperative. Wolves are a lot like humans. They live in packs with a highly organized social structure. An alpha male and female are at the top of the pecking order in each pack. The pack hunts, breeds, travels and rests together. A wolf litter typically averages about five pups. Family members take turns caring for their young, and wolf pair bonds may last a lifetime.

Crucially, wolves play a major role in the health of the land. Since wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the mid-1990s, the landscape has changed dramatically. Leading scientists attribute this to a phenomenon called ``the ecology of fear,'' where wolves keep ``loitering'' elk herds out of sensitive streamside areas. The compromised waterways are now rebounding, with an increase in water quality and riparian vegetation. Scientists point to the return of thriving young cottonwood and aspen trees in the park, which were depleted by elk and deer during wolves' 50-year absence.

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Wolves Are Returning to Oregon; We Should Allow Them a Home Here
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