A happy, howling Father's Day!
On this Father's Day, Oregon has a special new father to congratulate and welcome: OR-7, a lone wolf no longer, now a proud papa.
Millions of people around the world have followed OR-7's saga, as chronicled by his satellite radio collar: how he left his pack in northeast Oregon as a restless 2-year old; how he crossed the high desert to become the first wolf in the Cascades in over 50 years; how he pushed south into California to search for a mate in a state where no wolf had been seen since 1924; how he finally settled down near Crater Lake, apparently resigned to a life of bachelorhood.
It was an epic story, but, really, what were the chances it would have a happy ending?
Then came the incredible news that a female wolf had somehow found her way across untold hundreds of miles to meet OR-7 in his wilderness solitude. She has no radio collar and so we will never know her story, but certainly it was one to match her mate's. And now, biologists have confirmed that the pair has produced a litter of pups, the first in this region in over 70 years.
The amazing story gives us hope. Hope on a human level that love can triumph over the longest of odds. And hope that wild nature too can find a way, can survive and restore itself if we only give it a chance.
Wolves belong here. They did not simply disappear from Oregon; they were eliminated in a misguided campaign of predator control at a time when the vital ecological role of wolves was not understood. The benefits of natural predator-prey relations for healthy ecosystems have now been documented in hundreds of studies, most recently in Yellowstone following the return of wolves there. We are blessed to have great expanses of wild country left in Oregon, but without wolves, this natural landscape is not whole.
OR-7 and his mate (shall we call her Wanda?) show us the resilience of nature. But wolves still face entrenched prejudices and powerful opposition in some quarters. They won't take their place as a stable part of our environment unless we embrace wolf conservation. Happily, California greeted the news of OR-7's pups by adding gray wolves to the state endangered species list. If OR-7's offspring disperse into California, they will be protected under state law.
Wolves are also protected under Oregon state law, but unfortunately their federal protections could be lost under a pending delisting proposal. It is essential that our state officials, from Governor Kitzhaber to the managers of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, take a strong position in support of healthy wolf populations throughout Oregon. This will ensure that our wolves are protected regardless of their federal listing status.
To become a parent is to take one's place in an unbroken strand of life stretching backward into the depths of time, and — we hope — into a limitless future. Somewhere in the Southern Oregon wilderness, young wolf pups are rolling around in the sunshine, biting each other's ears and waiting for their father and mother to return. Their existence is little short of miraculous, a tribute to the tenacity of Oregon's famous wandering wolf and his extraordinary mate. OR-7: Happy Father's Day!
Pepper Trail is a naturalist and writer. He lives in Ashland.