Living with a Wolf…

Wolf I lived with in Pacific Northwest

I stood still on the steps of my cabin, staring into her amber eyes.

She was right there on the path to my right, head down, looking up.

A gray wolf.

I was living in the mid-elevation Cascade Mountains of Oregon. There’d been no wolves here since the 1940s. But what surprised me wasn’t the wolf. I knew this one. I’d spent the summer in this canyon with her living nearby. Her name was Arrow. And she was a kleptomaniac!

She’d been brought here by a couple who lived in another cabin a short ways down river. She was the most elegant and gentle animal I’ve ever met, confirming what I’ve heard from others who’ve lived with wolves. What surprised me was her presence near my cabin after I’d just found my cabin disturbed. I had left the door open this morning to air it out, so I’d just pulled a 4-foot-high panel across the doorway and turned to see Arrow.

As I looked at her, and she looked this way and that sheepishly, it all clicked. She’d been casing my place!

“You little shit,” I said, smiling.

She turned and padded away, her large paws soundless on the forest duff.

I walked downhill and hid behind the remnants of an old wood storage building. Sure ’nuff. There Arrow came back, silent as a ghost. She stole up the stairs and sailed over the barrier, effortlessly and so quickly that had I turned away for a moment, I wouldn’t have seen.

I snuck up the hill. “Gotcha, ya little…!”

She heard me before I got to the stairs and bounded out of the cabin, off the porch, off between the Douglas fir.

I moved the panel and pulled the door closed then retreated.

Arrow returned, pushed the cabin door open and slipped inside in one fluid, curving movement as though the door didn’t exist.

I returned. She ran. I closed the door, replaced the large panel, and added a chair against it before falling back. This time, as Arrow surveyed the situation, she must have realized it was more work than fun. She turned to look back at where she’d always known I was hiding before moving off the porch and trotting away to some other game.

In all this time, not one, single time did I have reason to fear her.

There’s been a lot of good news in wolf conservation recently. This month a federal judge stopped wolf hunting and trapping in the Upper Midwest. Monday marked 20 years since reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone and Idaho. The famous wolf that first entered Oregon from Idaho and traipsed all the way to California now leads an entire pack in the Rogue-Umpqua Wilderness. But while many advocates were excited by the first gray wolf presence on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon last Fall, our hearts fell with the news that a Utah hunter then killed the animal.

The hunter claims to have confused the wolf for a coyote. I’m calling B. S. The foundational NRA guideline for firearm use is “know your target” (NRA guidelines). Most firearm owners I know live by that rule. A wolf is 3x larger than a coyote with larger paws, squarer nose and ears. And “call it a coyote” is the equivalent of the insanity defense for those opposed to wolf reintroduction: ranchers and farmers in particular. My guess is that hunter and others started coming the area for “coyote” as soon as news broke about the Grand Canyon wolf.

I’ve been meditating recently on what motivates people to react so very strongly toward wolves. There is no animal more polarizing than the wolf, although wild horses (previous post) and cougar come close.

Later that summer I lived with Arrow, two hikers passed through. Although Arrow never approached anyone she didn’t know, she watched in curiosity from behind the cabins. The hikers saw a wolf and freaked. Though they claimed to be researchers and verbally attacked us with scientific rhetoric, their response was more fear than ecology. They threatened animal control. They threatened a lawsuit. And my friends, with Arrow, were forced to leave the state. All for an animal that never touched them.

The same state that now has 64 wolves in 8 different packs (here).

I am aware of the potential risks of having wolves as pets as well as the greater risk of wolf-dog hybrids. I’m also aware that there have been many well-documented attacks on humans (wikipedia). But it is now extremely unlikely, those who hate wolves far outweighed any attacks, and the hatred seems beyond the point of reasonability.

Wild animals can be scary. And they can be beautiful. Not unlike humans.

Wolves kill cows and elk for food to eat, not because they’re evil. If a wolf attacks a human, it’s not because they’re hateful; it’s to survive. We shoot a wolf for killing a cow we now can’t sell for slaughter. We call wolves murderous for killing an elk that now we can’t shoot. We oppose wolves for killing cows and elk so that we can kill cows and elk. Wolves challenge the idea that our quality of life requires little or no consideration for another life.

We call this a nuisance.

And what I fear is that wolves are also a nuisance to environmentalists and wildlife conservation advocates.  ((You say: Wut?))

We fight hard and dedicate our lives for the quality of ecological life, ultimately for the quality of life in our biosphere. But I wonder if too often we give little or no consideration for the quality of life in the communities it affects. …or even want to. Wolves become a nuisance for us too. We don’t want to have to change the progress we’ve made on wolf reintroduction, for anyone else.

Hear what I’m saying. I do advocate for wildlife conservation, including wolf reintroduction, and I’m sensitive to the urgency for action. I also recognize that this–like any environmental decision we make–has legitimate impacts upon local communities, including farmers and ranchers. The urgency does not exceed the need to consider others if we expect to build a culture of environmental action.

Wolves are a nuisance to our own hubris. The hubris of thinking we know better than others how to manage wildlife.

It’s too easy to say, “Everybody is just going to have to suck it up around here and make some changes.” I am convinced there are productive ways to get conservationists, wildlife managers, farmers and ranchers together to achieve solutions that allow for wildlife to thrive while also protecting the quality of life for local communities. It’s happened elsewhere. Klamath dam removal, for instance, where the “groups that drafted the agreement say they’ve all had to make equal concessions” (here).

That’s the kind of consideration that makes me hopeful for wolves.

IDEAS FOR APPROACHING WAR OF THE WOLVES:

1. Stop Arguing.
Recognize what we’re always saying–“We’re all in this together.”–and realize that the cost for wildlife conservation is shared by unlikely environmentalists: fishers, hunters, farmers, ranchers among them. Demonstrate real care for where that cost has been abject and unintended. Broaden “saving the earth” to include the human animal.

2. Review What Local Communities are Experiencing.
A Wisconsin DNR white paper a friend shared with me (here) identifies many of the ways that wolf reintroduction has adversely affected the local farming and ranching communities. In the last paragraph, I also find some of the best recommendations for forward movement, including areas that must be mitigated for local communities.

3. Create a Context for Productive Listening.
    The onus must be upon us to create a culture of hearing what each other is saying. Among other mediums, schedule regular times for trusted representatives of each stakeholders to talk and protect that space for thoughtful listening. It takes time and investment, but was one of the processes employed by David Rupert in the Devils Tower-Climbing resolution (here).

4. Make Solutions Accessible & Follow Up.
Right now there are some real, workable solutions for wildlife management. In Kenya a 13-year-old Richard Turere invented an easy, cost-effective deterrent for lions (here). It seems as though as similar technique could be used successfully for wolves in North America (here). Give farmers and ranchers the right and means to defend their property in an ecologically responsible way. Demonstrate that wildlife consideration can be reasonable.

6 Responses to “Living with a Wolf…

  • Very thoughtful and a delightful encounter. Three documented cases of human attacks in N. America? That deserves some consideration. Wolves have alyays avoided humans to my knowledge. (Barry Holsten Lopez: Of Wolves and Men). Thank you for the fine reasoning.

    • I really appreciate that. It took me some time to think through wolf attacks in particular, as this was new info to me as well. Lopez and Mowat both excellent writers, but a lot has been discovered since their books were written. What’s exciting is that this includes research on human-predator solutions also. Thanks for commenting!!

  • Alexandra Browning
    3 years ago

    I’m a huge fan of seeing a situation from as many perspectives as one can manage, and I’d like to commend you for doing (I think) a great job at that. Also, taking a sensitive issue and proposing a real framework for addressing it, as a community, is commendable.

    I’ve only entered the world of farming in the last year or so, but many farmers that I’ve met and respect meet wildlife at the field edge with the help of hunter-friends – mostly they deal with deer, turkeys, porcupines, etc. but I imagine a similar response might come about if they found a predator animal around. It’s a hard line to draw, and though they may present it as a black-and-white issue, there’s a lot of grey area there with respect to wildlife conservation, as well as maintaining a balanced habitat and environment for native species.

    Thanks for bringing this up, though! It’s some great food for thought, and nice to read it from such a balanced perspective. I’m always thinking about where will I stand on certain issues when the day comes that it’s my farm, and I’m making the hard decisions, and this is another question that I believe matters.

  • Thank you so very much for commenting, Alexandra! It’s helpful to hear that I’m striking the balance I’m striving for. …or near it. 😛 And I hear you: the farming community is subject to a lot of pressures in today’s society, and they feel the burden of their story not resonating with policy makers and land managers. However, farmers and ranchers with whom I’m familiar are also reasonable people; give them access to a means of management that makes more sense for their farm and family than the rifle, and most will use it. Let’s find that means and get it to them.

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