Oregon-7, that wandering grey wolf from northeast Oregon, has moved into our neck of the woods. His arrival brings many questions. Do we have anything to fear from wolves? Will they eat our livestock? And if wolves settle here, will they destroy game we like to hunt?
The first question is perhaps the easiest to answer.
The International Wolf Center in Ely, Minn., (with the densest wolf population in the Lower 48) says, "A person in wolf country has a greater chance of being killed by a dog, lightening, a bee sting or a car collision with a deer than being injured by a wolf."
Wolves are shy, more afraid of you than you are of them. The few times wolves have bothered people has happened primarily because they were allowed to feel too comfortable around us. To avoid this, as with all wild creatures, never feed or do anything to let wolves get too relaxed in your presence. If by chance a curious wolf approaches you, scare it away by yelling, throwing things at it, honking your horn. And if wolves are around, put your dogs up. Instinctively, wolves see dogs as a threat to their territory and may react quite strongly to them.
Wolves do occasionally kill livestock. But statistically, the numbers are minimal compared to other forces, including coyotes and dogs, not to speak of bad weather and disease.
A study published in Ecological Economics in 2009 reveals that in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana (states with hefty wolf populations) livestock losses from wolves made up less than 0.01 percent of the rancher's annual gross income.
Of course, if you're the one who loses livestock to wolves, the financial loss can be significant. Fortunately, there are compensations plans that reimburse for proven wolf depredations, including a new plan in Oregon.
Also, non-lethal methods of preventing conflict are proving quite effective. These include removing livestock carcasses that may attract wolves, keeping cattle and sheep close in when they are birthing, and the use of fladry (waving flags that frighten wolves away), loud sirens and spotlights. Check the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife website for details.
Loss of deer and elk to wolves is a complicated issue.
Of course, they consume these animals, they are their natural prey. But study after study has proven that wolves also benefit these populations by culling out unhealthy animals and keeping them fit.
Often, people think wolves have eaten all the game when the truth is the wolves have changed the habits of the elk and deer by ushering them out of the open into wooded areas.
Not seeing these animals doesn't mean wolves have eaten them all. Other factors impact game herds much more than wolves. Recent reductions of mule deer and elk in a few prime hunting areas in Idaho have been mainly because of bad weather, not wolves, according to studies cited on the Idaho Department of Fish and Game website.
Oregon-7 may turn around and go home, or he may stay and settle into the Cascades. There is plenty of room there. A study done by Oregon State University scientists shows that the Cascades have the best potential habitat for wolves in the state. The world is watching how Oregon handles our wolves, expecting us to do a more intelligent job than some other states.
The million dollar question may never be answered.
Why are wolves, despite all evidence proving they aren't the evil character depicted in fairy tales and folklore, still so intimidating to a handful of people? If you can fully answer that question in a logical, thoughtful manner, you'll be the first.
Beckie Elgin grew up at a zoo in Iowa and now resides in Ashland. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies and an master of fine arts in creative writing.