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Wolves in Oregon? It's a matter of time.

I first visited Yellowstone National Park as a kid in — 1970 and still recall vivid images of elk, bison, moose and especially — bears - both of the black and grizzly variety. On my last visit to the — park in 1991, I remember hiking across some open meadows of wildflowers — with my wife and looking up to see a bear running at us a few hundred — yards off.

My first thought was "Uh-oh, this could be a griz." As — other thoughts came to mind such as resigning myself to the fetal position — and feeling warm slobber on back my neck, we determined the bear to be — of the black variety and it veered away when it spotted us. As the bruin — took cover in a patch of trees and my heartbeat subsided, I thought to — myself, "Wow, what a wild place."

At the time, I couldn't imagine Yellowstone getting any — wilder but with the arrival of 31 wolves in 1995-1996, the park has done — just that. Today there are over 160 wolves roaming freely in and around — the park's boundaries.

From all indications, it appears that parts of Oregon — may still be wild enough for wolves to call home. The first wolf was spotted — in the state in 1999, followed by two others in 2000. Perhaps these were — just strays, but perhaps they were scouts. A verified pack was recently — found in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area just across the Oregon — border in Idaho. Named the Cold Springs Pack, it consists of two adults — and two pups. Radio collars have been attached to monitor their movements.

"All the wolf experts predict that wolves will eventually — be moving into Oregon," says John Stephenson, wildlife biologist with — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Bend, who is coordinating the state's — wolf activities. They will most likely swim the Snake River or cross on — bridges and settle in the Wallowas and other parts of the Blue Mountains — that contain potential wolf habitat.

In preparation for wolves entering Oregon, the state put — together a Wolf Advisory Committee and expects to have a Wolf Management — Plan finalized by January. From the federal standpoint, Stephenson says — his agency is not promoting recovery in the state, but they're not discouraging — it either. That decision will be left up to the state.

The issue has already become controversial. There are — people who passionately want to see wolves in the state, such as Defenders — of Wildlife, and there are those who are passionately against any wolves, — such as the livestock industry. "There are also many in the middle who — would be willing to let wolves come into the state, but feel strongly — that they need to be managed and kept at a reasonable population," explains — Stephenson.

Yellowstone National Park and the state of Minnesota are — proof that wolves are an integral part of a healthy ecosystem and that — the controversies and myths surrounding them are false.

Starting in the late 1800s, Yellowstone wolves were slaughtered — and by 1926 the last wolves in the park were gone. Thus began a seventy-year — period without this top predator. The elk population expanded and began — grazing heavily in riparian areas. Cottonwood, aspen, and willow were — decimated by the herds, prompting park managers to shoot elk in order — to protect the vegetation.

Today, the returning wolves are conducting their own sort — of wildlife and range management.

Research indicates that wolves appear to be indirectly — benefiting a wide range of flora and fauna in the park by changing the — behavior of elk and other ungulates. Wolves keep big game moving, not — allowing them to stay in one spot and overgraze the area. Today, these — riparian plants are being naturally restored and provide many benefits — for many species.

With the restoration of riparian vegetation comes less — streambank erosion and cooler water, which is great for trout and other — coldwater species. Migratory birds return to roost in the new foliage. — Also, before wolf reintroduction, no beavers could be found in the northern — part of the park. Now, seven colonies are hard at work building lodges — and dams that create marshland habitat for otters, mink, muskrats and — ducks.

With wolves on the scene in Yellowstone now, the coyote — population has been cut in half since wolves kill their smaller competitors. — Because coyotes prey heavily on antelope fawns, the antelope population — has also improved. Even the local economy has gotten a boost since hundreds — of visitors come to the park for the sole purpose of seeing or hearing — a wolf.

Yellowstone's elk herds have not been decimated by the — wolves, as some may believe. According to Doug Smith, the wolf project — leader for the park, the summer herd numbers haven't changed since wolves — were reintroduced but the winter herd numbers have decreased slightly. — Smith acknowledges that wolves do kill elk, but said there are other reasons — for the decline such as six years of drought combined with other predators — such as grizzlies, black bears, cougars, coyotes and humans. He notes — that more cow elk are also being hunted and killed outside the park since — wolf reintroduction.

Still, many ranchers believe that wolves and cattle can't — coexist, saying that's the reason they got rid of them a hundred years — ago. A look at Minnesota shows that wolves, livestock, deer and humans — can indeed coexist. The lake state has ten times more people and ten times — more wolves than all of Wyoming.

Less than one-half of one percent of all Minnesota farmers — and ranchers have experienced wolf attacks on their livestock. Any livestock — killed by wolves is compensated by the state. In the West, verified losses — from wolves are compensated by Defenders of Wildlife. Minnesota has more — wolves now and the biggest deer population it's ever had.

The first steps to a successful recovery are to educate — the public and to eliminate the myths and paranoia surrounding wolves, — such as how they target humans. There have been very few documented attacks — in North America.

Famed conservationist Aldo Leopold, who once ran across — a pack of wolves with some friends, wrote, "In those days, we had never — heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf." He thought that fewer wolves — meant more deer, which would mean a hunter's paradise. But as he watched — a wolf die from a barrage of bullets, he had a change of heart. He thought — of Thoreau's words: In wildness is the salvation of the world. Later, — Leopold would write, "A species must be saved in many places if it is — to be saved at all."