It's time for biologists to let OR-7 go dark
OR-7, the wayfaring wolf from northeast Oregon, drew a vast audience during his peregrinations. His odyssey across the state to the Cascades, then south into California, was entrancing. Innumerable Oregonians rejoiced in his intelligence when he turned north again and settled in our Southern Oregon Cascades.
Then came news that OR-7 had a mate, shocking scientists and all of us. Where did she come from, while we weren’t looking? It’s like the mystery of Eve. OR-7, maybe, should count his ribs — not that he would want one back.
In April we learned that the couple had pups. The first wolves born in western Oregon since the 1930s. Now OR-7’s radio collar is losing its juice. Wildlife agencies have tried to leg-hold trap him, so as to dart him with drugs and re-collar him, without luck so far. Fancy that — a wolf smart enough to sniff out a trap.
If they can’t trap him or his mate, authorities say, they’ll try to dart him from the air if they can catch him in open country.
An epic voyager among wolves, improbably, after many moons and many miles, finds what he wanted. Don’t the agencies have what they wanted? Don’t we wolf lovers have what we wanted?
A new collar won’t protect OR-7 and his family from a lucky wolf-hater with a rifle or the wheels of a back-road vehicle. Quite the contrary. The collar tells location. Location is information. Information has a way of wandering.
Northwestern wolves are getting around. One was recently spotted in Grand Canyon National Park, the first western gray wolf seen there since the 1940s. OR-7’s mate herself, it turns out, journeyed from northeastern Oregon, entirely unobserved, to their Cascade rendezvous.
When Idaho wolves first were swimming the Snake River to our shore, it may have been helpful to their cause to track where they were going. But this is a new chapter. The wildlife authorities have handled wolf migration into Oregon very well, but it’s time to let OR-7 and his family go dark.
To speak in broader terms, wolves and other critters don’t exist so that we can peer into their lives, whether with joy or horror or love or curiosity or any other human emotion or intent. A few years ago, in another newspaper, I read a feature about an agency employee, studying bears, who thought it appropriate to enter the den of a hibernating mother and remove two cubs and cuddle them in his arms, cutely, so that a picture could be taken for a news story.
Sorry, but no one’s entitled to do that. He loves bears, I get it. He’s conducting research. Which only shows that love and research both can be as imperiously insensitive as any other human motivation.
We still take our kids to circuses, some of us, to show them the animals. The captive, bastardized, whipped, insultingly trained animals. When one of them misbehaves, like the white Bengal tiger in a Las Vegas show who clamped his jaws on the neck and head of his keeper and dragged him offstage, we are horrified (and spellbound).
The real horror is that a wild creature of Earth was reduced to the low estate of human entertainment. The 233-page federal report on the incident could not determine a reason for the attack.
OR-7 and his mate are luckier. They are free. Nature be praised, they’ve found a suitable place to raise a family. Let’s accord them, as we accord our own kind, the respect of allowing them do it in private.
Wouldn’t that serve wolfdom better than running down a panicked OR-7 with a helicopter and shooting him up with drugs again?
We know, after all, what wolves need. As Henry Beston, Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey, Barry Lopez, Rick Bass, and many others have told us, wild animals need wild country, enough of it to make a living. Nature, with all its uncertainties, takes care of the rest.
The greatest love we can give the wolves of western Oregon is twofold:
Let them slip out of sight and live their lives.
Work hard to grace them with room for their descendants.
John Daniel is a three-time Oregon Book Award winner in literary nonfiction. He lives in the Coast Range foothills west of Eugene.