Resilience in a Time of Resistance

Connections with people, wild places, and wildlife provide hope in a time of conflict.

Last week, Oregon Wild held our annual staff retreat in the newly expanded Cascade Siskiyou Monument. It’s a beautiful place full of remarkable biodiversity. It is worthy of protection.

As a remote field staffer, it’s always good to reconnect. Our retreats are serious business. But simply being in community with fellow advocates is invigorating and fulfilling. This year though, it was the experience before and the unexpected passenger after that were the most memorable. 

Wanderers
The drive from the Wallowas to the Monument is long. After a 6-hour drive, I picked up Wildlife Coordinator Danielle Moser from her home in Portland. Onward. Another 6 hours later we arrived in a place we suspected we might meet an old friend similarly inclined to wandering ways.

It’s been nearly 7 years since I first met a wolf who would later become known as OR-7 or Journey. My ten-hour drive was nothing compared to his epic trek on paw (or was it a Volkswagen?). We camped near a trailhead in the heart of Rogue Pack territory. We didn’t hear any howls over the thunder and wind of an unexpected nighttime storm, but we did find evidence we were in a good spot.

The photo here may be the largest wolf scat I’ve ever encountered. Was it Journey? His mate? A yearling preparing for his or her own dispersal?

We woke up early, explored the area and headed to Central Point to meet with a multi-generational rancher in Central Point. He was concerned about the return of wolves and made no apologies for wishing for the days when there were none. We didn’t see eye to eye on everything but after a couple hours I left feeling more optimistic than when we’d arrived. We had listened to one another and agreed that if we continued doing so, perpetual conflict needn’t be our fate.

I think we agreed we had a mutual interest in less dead cows and less dead wolves. Seeing so much time wasted by unnecessary conflict in Northeastern Oregon, perhaps others will choose a different path. Time will tell…

Recovery
After 3-days of discussions, libations, hikes on public lands whose protections are threatened by the Trump administration, meetings with local conservationists, and a tour of a thirsty wildlife refuge, we parted ways. Knowing I’d not make it home that night, I decided to take a detour to the Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge – a place I’d never been.

Now I have to go back! The spectacular scenery, wildlife, and hot springs left me wanting more. Seeing a wild place free of otherwise omnipresent cows (their scat is far more ubiquitous and less intriguing than that of wolves and other native wildlife) was a reminder of the damage to which we have become desensitized and the resilience of our landscape when given a chance. A recent investigative article highlighted the remarkable recovery of the place.

After an early morning hike to some petroglyphs, sightings of sage grouse, jackrabbits, pronghorn, and a badger (an animal more often seen hanging on fenceposts than alive where I Iive), I had mixed feelings about hitting pavement near the tiny town of Frenchglen. 

Homeward
Just a few miles up the road, I saw a golden eagle take off from a sizeable road kill. The juvenile flew to a rock and kept an eye on me and what I wrongly assumed was his meal. After taking a few photos of the living, I figured I’d at least look at the dead. 

To my surprise, it was also a golden eagle. I got off the road when a truck passed. The driver was careful to keep his tires off the animal and drove right over the top. With a rare opportunity to look at a golden eagle up close, I took a few photos before realizing the bird was still alive…but just barely.

Another truck passed. This time, I held my breath hoping the driver would make a good decision and this would not be the moment the eagle chose to gather his energy and raise his head. 

Unsure what to do and with his sibling looking on, I dumped my carefully organized camping gear out of the large plastic tub in the back of my vehicle. I grabbed the towels I keep in anticipation of a future muddy dog. I picked up the eagle who managed to only protest a little. I secured the top and started driving.

Refuge and Rehab
About an hour later, I turned into the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge – a place again welcomingly overrun with birders armed with bird guides and binoculars rather than domestic terrorists armed with selectively-read pocket constitutions and AR-15s. The contrast was as stark as my experience earlier in the day seeing wildlife thriving in a refuge compared to the carnage of road killed sage grouse, badger, coyote, and countless small birds and mammals I saw along the way through an overgrazed sea of sagebrush. 

Sadly, the Refuge could offer little help. Well-meaning employees offered advice and made calls. Sadly, one worker skeptical of the eagle’s chances of survival suggested I simply “dump it somewhere”. I didn’t take that advice, but cut some holes in the plastic tub, confirmed the phone number of the nearest wildlife rehabilitation center and got back on the road. 

Four-and-a-half hours of driving fast on straightaways and carefully on turns, I pulled into Blue Mountain Wildlife. Still full of adrenaline and concerned that I’d not heard the eagle’s movements in some time, I appreciated the calm demeanor of the staff who greeted me.

Several interns, an employee, and the Directors Lynn and Bob Tompkins, calmly and capably confirmed the juvenile bird was still alive. They went about their work with an air of quiet, compassion, and confidence. 

The young eagle was anaesthetized with gas and inspected.

He weighed in at just under 3-pounds –surprising given the impressive wingspan and talons. I was pleased when Lynn said Golden Eagles are notoriously resilient and that he was in better shape than many birds that survive. Even better, an initial exam indicated no lead in his body (lead ammunition is a primary killer of raptors) and had no obvious injuries.

I was given a short tour of the facility (home to three other recovering goldens) and was even briefly put to work helping to move some equipment into the avian ER. 

I wasn’t sure when it was the right time to leave, but realized I was of little help. Two days later I was pleased to learn that despite injuries to his left hip and shoulder, the eagle was again interested in food.

Reflections
I’m hoping to hear more – and maybe even get to see him released where he was found. But I left thankful for folks like Lynn and her team at Blue Mountain Wildlife who have dedicated their life to helping the helpless in a world full of dangers we’ve created.

Exhausted after a long drive, skipped meals, and a few days of homesickness, I realize those trivial hardships are nothing compared to what we’ve put in front of wolves trying to retake their rightful place on the Oregon landscape, a sage grouse trying to survive amid cowpies and hunters, the lead-dodging badger, the lead-poisoned scavenger who made the mistake of eating the badger, and a confused eagle surrounded by well-meaning apes after being hit by one of their trucks. 

However I was also struck by the resilience of the people fighting every day to right past mistakes…to protect our public lands, to restore wild places after decades of abuse, and a small group of folks saving wild animals one at a time. I was grateful for generations of dedicated conservationists who came before. And I was even thankful for a rancher who was willing to respectfully share his perspective and listen to mine.

In a time when we seem destined to fight with each other and precious few of us feel like we are winning, a few days travelling around Oregon was a good reminder of the resilience we can all find if we look for it.

I’m proud to be a part of organizations like Oregon Wild and support the work of others like Blue Mountain Wildlife. I hope you’ll do the same.

 

 

Photo Credits: 
Photos from Oregon Wild staff and Blue Mountain Wildlife