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Idaho's re-established wolves will migrate west

Problem or welcome home?

ODFW hears comments on both extremes about wolves that are expected to migrate into Oregon

The wolf will either come growling to your door or restore a sorely needed balance to Oregon's great outdoors.

Those extremes were expressed at a public hearing Tuesday night at North Medford High School as the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife sought comments in advance of what it says is the inevitable migration of gray wolves to remote areas of Southwestern Oregon.

From all the information I've been gathering on wolves, there is still a lot of problems that have not been resolved, cautioned Bill Drewien, past president of the Jackson County Cattlemen's Association.

Citing the compensation offered by the Defenders of Wildlife to pay ranchers the full market value for livestock killed by wolves, he noted that wouldn't be much help to ranchers running livestock on open range.

It's pretty hard to be compensated if they don't know they are missing, he said of livestock taken by wolves. There is not full compensation for the losses.

He also expressed concern about hybrid wolf populations already established and health and safety for people encountering wolves.

There are a lot of things to consider: land owners, people who live out in the rural areas and make their living out there, he said. Wolves will have a big impact on the economics of their livelihoods.

His concerns about the potential loss of livestock and livelihood were echoed by many of the more than 100 people attending the session.

But there was at least an equal amount of support for allowing wolves to repopulate the region. Representatives from the Pacific Alliance for Wild Wolves and the Coalition to Recover Oregon Wolves made their voices heard.

If the federal government removes protections for gray wolves in the western United States, as it has indicated it will attempt to do next year, the only protection for wolves in Oregon will be its continued listing under the state endangered species act, said Nancy Weiss, western director of species conservation for Defenders of Wildlife.

But just being listed isn't enough, she added. It is critical the state develop a strong management plan that aims to recover this native species.

The wolf is a keystone predator we should be welcoming back with open arms, said Joseph Vaile, a biologist with the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center.

Vaile and other supporters of allowing wolves to return to the region through migration from reintroduced packs in Idaho say it will help restore the ecosystem, not threaten other wildlife and humans.

the way we try to manage everything, we upset the balance of nature, and it has come back to haunt us, said Selma resident Elaine Wood, a board member of the Rogue Group Sierra Club.

Wood also stressed that humans need to re-examine the mythology that wolves are malevolent.

But one man countered that, with the influx of the human population, more management is needed, not less.

Another local resident wondered about the impact the influx of wolves will have on the local deer and elk population.

One woman wondered if the presence of wolves will be a threat to children whose families live in rural areas. Another said the state needs to educate Oregonians how to avoid conflict with wolves.

But one man suggested that state residents should be allowed to vote on the issue.

What if people don't want to have wolves in Oregon? he asked.

The range of comments reflects the reactions of many Oregonians attending the hearings being held statewide, observed Mark Henjum, a wildlife biologist with the ODFW.

We've been getting comments from people who think it would be interesting and nice to have them back to those who don't want them here at all, he said. We also have people who want them here, but think they should be managed in some way.

There is a need to provide for more information about wolves to the public, said Henjum, who has attended more than a half-dozen wolf hearing thus far.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at

Seven more meetings

Tuesday's public hearing in Medford was the first of eight wolf meetings planned throughout the state this month.

The next session by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is scheduled in Klamath Falls tonight. The meeting will be from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Oregon State University Extension Office, 3328 Vandenberg Road.

Other sessions are set for Burns, Eugene, Roseburg, Salem, Portland and Coos Bay.

Six meetings were held in Eastern Oregon last month.

Participants are encouraged to make comments on how wolves should be managed. They may also send their comments via e-mail to the department at odfw.comments@state.or.us

Wolves are coming to a wild area near you.

Not in the next year. And probably not in the next decade.

But eventually, wolves will find their way from Idaho, where they have been re-established, to the wild regions of Southern Oregon and far Northern California, according Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officials.

The ODFW is holding hearings around the state to gather public input on how wolves should be managed in preparation for when they arrive. The agency doesn't plan to reintroduce wolves to the region, but allow them to migrate over the years.

Evidence of their migration to other states was confirmed Saturday when a trapper near Salt Lake City captured alive a 2-year-old male wolf in a trap set for coyotes. Wolves were eradicated in Utah 70 years ago.

Wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1988 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The gray wolf is both on the Oregon and federal endangered species lists. Under state law, the ODFW is required to recover listed species.

As part of a program to help the diminishing gray wolf populations recover, Fish and Wildlife reintroduced wolves to Idaho in 1995 and 1996.

Since 1999, three Idaho wolves have ventured into northeastern Oregon. There are no known wild wolves in the state now.

The last purebred wolf in the Oregon wild probably was killed in 1946 in the southern portion of the Umpqua National Forest near the Jackson County line, according to the ODFW.

Although a wolf-like animal was killed in Oregon in 1974 and another in 1978, officials said those likely were wolf hybrids, the domesticated cross between wolves and large dogs.

Wild wolves were last seen in California in 1924, officials said.

There are now about 700 wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, according to Fish and Wildlife.

Wild wolf populations re-established in the Great Lakes area in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, in the Southwest in Arizona and New Mexico and in the Northern Rockies now number about 4,000, officials estimate.