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Outside » Natural World

Where Wolves?: Reclassifying wolves could have consequences

This is the second installment in a two-part piece about the decision to remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species list in Montana and Idaho.

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This is the second installment in a two-part piece about the decision to remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species list in Montana and Idaho.

After the War, there was a lot of 1080 (known to the chemical industry as sodium fluoroacetate) stored in military installations around the US; it was too costly to destroy, so someone came up with the bright idea to give it to the rat-chokers to kill wildlife - and boy, did it ever! From mice to coyotes to eagles, 1080 did the job.

What no one knew at the time was that coyotes are not wolves, even though in some places in the U.S., like Texas, they're called, "wolves." Coyotes do not act, think, or behave like wolves.

If a male coyote (known as the "dog") pairs up with a female coyote, (known as a "bitch") produces 3 to 5 pups, and protects a territory, that's just fine and dandy, that's normal behavior. But if some menace, greater than family or territorial conflict, threatens the coyote, good old Darwin's ideas kick in. The dogs then run with up to three or four bitches, and instead of producing three or so pups, each bitch gives birth to up to eight young. Instead of one pair protecting a given territory, it's "every dog for itself and let's get what we can."


Here's the science of all this. In 1964 I was asked by The Defenders of Wildlife to look into the stomachs of coyotes killed by government rat-chokers on Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge in southeast Oregon. While I was looking into stomachs of coyotes killed, I noticed a man not far off looking into some other part of the animals. Turned out he was looking at birth scars on the ovaries of the females. Instead of finding the normal three to five scars, he was seeing up to eight. His conclusion was the coyote was compensating for stress by producing a "surplus" to insure survival. That could also be looked at as "job security" for the rat-chokers.

If we protect the wolf and allow it to continue to expand its populations in Oregon, two things will occur. One, a few will eat livestock. They will, like certain coyotes, be inclined to kill a domestic sheep or calf instead of an elk or deer, a behavior that will continue to give the wolf a bad name. But those wolves that choose to stay in the wild will help keep elk and deer from over-running their habitat and immediately begin to compete with coyotes.

If the Obama Administration can rid itself of the Bush-followers and put that 'good science" to work, we may just see the wolf as a natural part of the Deschutes National Forest - again. Instead of listening to coyotes yapping, there will be an occasional wolf telling you, "We're baaaaack," doing what they once did before we got so confused with who has so-called, "rights" to do what we want to our wild places and wild things, regardless of the consequences.

The Bible I use as a way of thinking about our wildlife heritage is Aldo Lerpold's "A Sand County Almanac." Leopold, said to be the father of Wildlife Management, addresses wolves in many parts of his tome, but this is how he thought about the wolf that he and his fellow "sportsmen" shot:

"We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes-something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters' paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view."

In 1954, the Oregon Game Commission (now ODFW) opened a season on all mule deer - including does - in Central Oregon because the deer population was over-running their habitat. Why? There were no wolves to help maintain a healthy deer population, the wily coyotes were on the run, and no one wanted to listen to what Leopold was saying...

Steve Pedery, Conservation Director of Oregon Wild says, "Today, we are just beginning to see a recovery of wolves in Oregon, with a handful of these majestic animals now roaming the forests and mountains of Northeast Oregon. True recovery of gray wolves in Oregon will depend on healthy wolf populations existing in neighboring states. Unfortunately, Secretary Salazar's decision to reinstate the Bush wolf policy will put these animals back in the crosshairs in Idaho, Wyoming, and elsewhere in the West, and endanger recovery in Oregon."

I agree!

If you would like to see wolves, close-up, albeit dead and mounted, visit the High Desert Museum soon. You can feel as if you are surrounded by a pack of wolves, and bears as they squabble, coo, chuckle and even cry, and discover your role in these animals' futures.

Through recorded sound, intimate wildlife photography, groundbreaking field research, and live historical reenactments, gain insight into two of America's top predators. Chat with live historical re-enactors about settlers who sought to wipe out wolves from the frontier., and learn how this sad effort led to the formation of the state of Oregon.

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