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Endangered Oregon: The Gray Wolf Returns

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The wolf thought to himself: ’What a tender young creature! what a nice plump mouthful – she will be better to eat than the old woman. I must act craftily, so as to catch both. – Excerpt from the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood” by the Brothers Grimm.

For generations, the prevailing belief about wolves in Europe and North America was that they were inherently dangerous, even malevolent animals. This is certainly reflected in the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, which was popularized by the Brothers Grimm in the mid-nineteenth century but whose roots are much older. It’s probable that the fear of wolves extends back to the earliest humans, when these large canines may have been direct competitors for food and territory. It’s also ironic that wolves were likely one of the first animals to be domesticated by these early humans, as archaeologists now believe canines have been living alongside us for at least 20,000 years.

Planned Eradicaton: Wolves Vanish In Oregon…Then Return

For decades, it was a common practice in the United States to hunt for the bounty on predatory animals, including Cougars, Bobcats, Coyotes, Grizzly Bears and Gray Wolves. This meant specific animals were targeted, and when hunters or trappers presented their carcasses they would receive a cash reward. This program of systematic eradication was built on the premise that certain animals – particularly predators – presented an unacceptable risk to domesticated livestock or competition for wild game such as deer and elk. Others simply believed that predators were “bad” and that wild areas would be healthier without them despite scientific evidence to the contrary.

This bounty system was extremely effective at removing these predators and the last known wolf in Oregon was killed in 1946. It would take thirty years for most Americans to understand and appreciate the positive role predators could play in an ecosystem. The passage of laws like the Endangered Species Act helped with predator reintroduction, restoring the natural balance in wild areas.

According to Michelle Dennehy, the Wildlife Communications Coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon created its own endangered species act in 1986 which included animals on the federal ESA like the wolf. State biologists believed that wolves would return naturally to Oregon via Washington or Idaho and began to prepare for that day.

“Between 1999 and 2000, we know of three wolves which entered Oregon from Idaho,” said Michelle. “Unfortunately, we knew of two of them because they were found dead.” The third wolf, a female wearing a radio tracking collar, was later captured in the John Day area and was returned to Idaho.

“The first confirmed wolf back in Oregon after these three… was called B300 and she was a radio-collared female from Idaho’s Timberline pack.” Michelle told the Oceanscape Network. “Today, that female is the breeding female for the Imnaha Pack, which is one of Oregon’s widely known wolf packs.” Click here for additional information on Oregon’s wolf packs.

Although ODFW is responsible for monitoring and protecting wolf introduction in Oregon, it sometimes means treading a fine line. As Michelle noted, not everyone in the state was happy to see this endangered animal return, especially livestock producers who were concerned that wolf predation on cattle would have a substantial financial impact. As part of their ongoing efforts to help the species, ODFW works with livestock producers to help reduce conflict.

How You Can Help

The future of wolves in Oregon remains uncertain, but there are simple things you can do to help assist with their recovery. When you’re in wolf country, never attempt to approach these animals. Wolves, like most wild species, prefer to stay far away from human beings and this separation keeps everyone safe. You can learn more about encountering wild animals without conflict by reading these guidelines. It’s also important to keep domesticated dogs leashed and under control. Dogs will sense wolves and may antagonize them, sometimes leading to tragic results.

If you are lucky enough to see wolves in the wild, ODFW has an online reporting form you can fill out. Logging these sightings will help biologists track the movement of Oregon’s wolves and help assure their continued survival.

Finally, you can join the Oregon Wild Wolf Pack or follow the status of our state wolves on Facebook. These resources may provide you with additional volunteer and stewardship opportunities to help protect Oregon’s Gray Wolves.

Related Features: Endangered Oregon: Diver and Survivor | | Endangered Oregon: The Northern Spotted Owl and Old Growth Forests | Endangered Oregon: The Vanishing Honey Bee

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Endangered Oregon: The Gray Wolf Returns

Michelle Dennehy with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife discusses the plight of the Gray Wolf and how conservation efforts and education are aiding in this endangered species recovery.

Oregon's "Wandering Wolf" On Twitter

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Wolves Among Us?

Wolves (Canis lupus) and domesticated dogs (Canis familiarius) are so similar that it’s nearly impossible for biologists to tell them apart on a genetic level. So why are they so different in temperament, with wolves avoiding human contact whenever possible and dogs craving it? Scientists now believe much of this is due to how the canine is socialized during the first few weeks of its life. Put simply, if raised around humans, a canine is more likely to see people as a members of its pack. However, that doesn’t automatically mean that a wolf pup raised by humans would act like a domesticated dog. Dog breeds have been carefully reared over centuries to respond positively to people, a predisposition which would not be present in a wolf pup.