Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife
Portland, Oregon

March 15, 1999
 

Dear (Sir):
 

I wanted to thank you for meeting with myself (and others) in Portland on March 10th concerning the future of the Blue Mountain Wolf (BMW) and wolf restoration in Oregon.

I wanted to let you know that I can relate to your difficult position.  As someone who worked as an endangered species biologist with the BLM, I am fully aware of the tremendous pressure you are likely under from the livestock industry to keep wolves out of Oregon. I also am a hunter and former hunting guide, and fully aware that a small percentage of hunters will always blame any decline in game numbers on predators like wolves, and will no doubt try to derail any efforts for wolf restoration in Oregon.

Nevertheless, I believe we all know that restoring wolves to Oregon is both ecologically feasible, and desirable.

For both of our benefits, I would like to reiterate here some of the major points I and others made at the meeting concerning the Blue Mountain Wolf and wolf restoration in the state.

First, as we noted, the FWS experimental, non-essential status doesn't necessarily require removal of the BMW from Oregon. As was noted when you read the regulations aloud to us, the documents clearly state that the Fish and Wildlife Service MAY at its discretion capture the wolf, however, it may also exercise the option to allow the wolf to remain in Oregon. I hope you will make this critical point clear to all politicians, media, and others: the FWS does not have to remove the wolf from Oregon. We feel that keeping a wolf in Oregon that does not cause a problem for livestock producers as this wolf has done so far is the best way to ensure a positive future for wolves in the state.

Secondly, arguing as some have done that we need to relocate this wolf to ensure its survival is disingenuous at best and certainly debatable.  Transfer of the wolf back to Idaho by no means assures the survival of BMW. As has been acknowledged, the potential for humans to kill the wolf in Oregon or Idaho are essentially the same. There is no reason to believe that people in Oregon are any more likely to shoot a wolf than residents of Idaho.

Third, moving the wolf back to Idaho may increase the chances she will be killed by other wolves or by humans. Most of the available low human conflict habitat in Idaho is already filled with wolves. There is no way the FWS will place her in non-occupied wolf habitat, yet placing BMW in the midst of other wolves could led to her death since wolves often kill "trespassing" non-pack members. Even if she is not directly killed by other wolves, BMW may well be frightened out of secure habitat by the presence of other wolves, and into direct conflict with humans, leading to death.

This situation has happened a number of times in Montana and Wyoming after wolves were relocated. In fact, most relocations ultimately fail. Without a good reason to remove this wolf, a capture and release in Idaho unnecessarily jeopardizes her survival.

Fourth, we do not agree with the assertion by the livestock industry that there will be significant conflicts with the livestock producers in Oregon. Yes we acknowledge there are likely to be a few livestock losses if wolves are permitted to recover in Oregon, but these conflicts will be minimal as we have pointed out. In 1998, livestock losses to wolves in Idaho, Montana and Greater Yellowstone recovery areas were all modest -- typically less than ten animals in each area for the year. There is no reason to believe losses will be any higher in Oregon, and certainly such losses will not destroy Oregon's livestock industry, and it's disingenuous for the livestock industry or anyone else to suggest otherwise.

We hope you will point this out at every opportunity.

Fifth, there is plenty of good wolf habitat in Oregon indeed, better than the existing occupied wolf habitat in Montana and other western states. For instance, though there are large wilderness areas in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, most of them are "rocks and ice" high elevation landscapes that provide little wolf habitat. A good example is the million acre Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness (AB) which lies just south of where I live in Montana.

The AB wilderness is part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem recovery area, but more than of the wilderness area is above timberline! The amount
of suitable wolf habitat is a fraction of that million acres. Indeed, the majority of existing occupied wolf territory in the Northern Rockies is primarily low elevation land outside of any protected wilderness core area, with significant areas overlapping with livestock occupied lands.

By contrast, Oregon has far better habitat for wolves than much of the Rockies. It has a higher percentage of public lands than some states like Montana, and even more acres of public lands than Montana. Furthermore, much of that public lands base is lower in elevation than the majority of public lands in Montana, making it far more suitable habitat for deer and elk, hence better wolf habitat.

We can't forget that states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota have far less "wilderness" than Oregon, and a much smaller public lands base, and yet support thousands of wolves. The notion that wolves require or only live in "wilderness" is myth.

Oregon also has a substantial prey base of elk and deer that could support hundreds of wolves. A study of wolf habitat and prey suitability in Colorado, a state approximately the same size as Oregon, and with a similar human population, and certainly far more livestock, and less public lands, found that a minimal of 1,200 wolves could live in the state. There is no reason to believe why a similar amount of wolves could not successfully reside in Oregon.

Sixth, we also believe that there is no reason to believe that Oregonians are any less supportive of wolf recovery than people in other states. In every poll taken in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, not to mention nationally, there has been overwhelming public support for wolf restoration and recovery. As I have pointed out even the majority of hunters in Montana and elsewhere support wolf restoration. Certainly one can always point to a small minority that is opposed to any wolf recovery, but this has always been a minority opinion. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I believe it's misleading to suggest Oregon will be any less supportive of wolves than other people in the country.

I would be happy to provide you with any additional documents or information about wolf restoration in the Rockies. I hope you have had a chance to read my paper on the potential for wolf restoration in Oregon which I provided to you and George. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to give me a call. I want to help smooth the transition for wolf restoration in Oregon. The best way to do this is to get as much good factual information about wolves and wolf recovery to the people of Oregon as possible. I hope we can work on this together.
 

Sincerely:
 

George Wuerthner
Wildlife Biologist-ONDA
Box 1526
Livingston, Montana 59047

406-222-1655