March Wolves and Wildlife Update: It's Complicated

It’s human nature to simplify things. But nature doesn’t always work that way. Our latest wildlife update reinforces the fact that nature is complicated and messy and wonderful.

When wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park and Central Idaho in the mid-90’s it was done in an effort to help restore the landscape - and a dynamic balance between predator and prey. As expected, prey numbers decreased in some places. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Nearly everywhere, prey became more wary. Some hunting groups have used that to argue for trophy wolf hunts – even here in Oregon. But reality is getting in their way. Over the last month, newspapers in Eastern Oregon have repeatedly said we have an elk crisis and it’s because there are too many!
Last month we shared the good news that for the first time ever, Oregon State Police caught a wolf poacher. The illegal trapper was ultimately given 2 years of probation, 100 hours of community service, a 3-year license suspension, and a $7,500 fine. It’s better than nothing. But given how rarely any justice has been served, it’s reasonable to ask if it’s enough to deter other aspiring poachers. Coupled with troubling comments from the local DA, it’s clear we have a long way to go before Oregon can say we’ve seriously addressed our poaching problem.
Each year, around this time, ODFW is busy wrapping up the annual wolf report. The report often includes previously unknown wolf poaching. The biggest news is usually the population number. Last year we expressed concern that population growth appeared to stagnate. The agency said it was likely due to bad weather conditions. This year, we hope to see a meaningful increase in the population that proves them right. New wolf sightings in places like Crater Lake National Park give us hope that Oregon’s wolf recovery hasn't gotten too far off track after some serious setbacks.

Aldo Leopold once said:

the last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant ‘what good is it?’ If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good whether we understand it or not.

He wasn’t talking about snakes, but it’s an important lesson. The Oregonian recently reminded us that Oregon isn’t just home to charismatic critters like sea otters, wolves, and eagles, it’s also home to a surprising array of snakes. Over the last month, we gave some love to snakes and other obscure natives like Kit Foxes and Ringtails over at our Wildlife Facebook Page.
We described last month’s update as the “Good News Edition”. Sadly the run of good news came to an abrupt halt when we learned the Orwellian Wildlife Services planned to bring M-44’s back to the state. The baited “cyanide bombs” made news a year or so ago when the agency “accidentally took” an Oregon wolf with the indiscriminate devices that also poisoned a child and killed his pet dog. To her credit Governor Kate Brown stripped state funding for the killing agency in her last budget proposal only to have it reinstated by Portland Democrat Lew Frederick.
Like wolves, giant salmon, and orca, sea otters were once common in Oregon. And like those other animals, they are a keystone species who play an incredibly important – and irreplaceable role – in the ecosystem. In their absence, Oregon’s kelp forests have suffered immensely. Despite failed reintroduction efforts, sightings of the adorable drifters have increased and people are taking note. The animal needs a recovery plan and ODFW remains asleep at the wheel. Expect to hear more from us on this important animal soon.
Amidst the fire and fury in Washington on matters like North Korea, Stormy Daniels, and steel tariffs, it’s easy to forget that attacks on public lands and bedrock protections like the Endangered Species Act have not abated.
New rounds of bills are expected just as Oregon’s Senators are hitting the road to meet with constituents around the state. Check out the schedule of Town Hall meetings for Senator Wyden and Senator Merkley. Grab a friend or three and go tell your Senators to stand up for public lands and wildlife.
And if you want to hone your skills, be sure to join the Oregon Wild Ones Network.