Hunting Our Brothers: Wolves in the West
Earlier this month, the wandering wolf, OR7, took a day-trip from his home in Oregon’s southern Cascades to visit northern California. He was the seventh wolf radio-collared in Oregon – hence the name OR7 – and he was the first wolf in California in almost 90 years when he initially crossed the border on December 28, 2011.
OR7 has quite a few admirers. His presence in Oregon was called “a moment of rare historic symmetry.” He has “legions of fans in the Golden State.” OR7 has Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. A movie, “OR7 The Journey,” is in the works. The Wild Peace Wolf OR7 Expedition retraces the wolf’s epic journey.
The celebration surrounding OR7 stands in stark contrast to the controversy surrounding gray wolves. Despite their rarity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to remove the gray wolf from the list of threatened and endangered species. According to the Service, the proposal comes after a comprehensive review confirmed that wolf populations had recovered in the western Great Lakes states and Northern Rockies.
Farmers and ranchers are concerned about the danger wolves pose to their livestock. Residents are also concerned about their safety, as well as the safety of their children and pets.
While these are legitimate concerns, conservation groups are outraged over the proposed delisting. The decision could derail wolf recovery efforts in states that possess some of the nation’s best unoccupied wolf habitat, such as northern California, Colorado, and Utah. In areas of the country where wolves are legally hunted, conservation groups point to hunting competitions and proposals for complete eradication of the species as two examples for why America is not ready for the delisting.
Native American groups are also upset. Wolves are featured prominently in the origin stories and legends of many tribes, including the Chippewa. The Chippewa believe that the first people and wolves once roamed the earth together as partners. On the eve of Michigan’s first wolf hunt, members of the Saginaw Indian Chippewa Tribe hosted a vigil for their “brother.”
It’s interesting to think about the contrasting excitement tied to OR7’s journey and the dread that OR7 may journey to our backyard. I love to picture wolves in the forest howling at the moon, but I’d be scared to death if I encountered a pack of wolves on a hike. What to do? Is it possible to keep the west wild and civilized? Is it possible to live alongside our brother again?
The deadline for submitting comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is tonight.
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