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Wolf tourism in Eastern Oregon

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Articles - July/August 2013
Monday, July 08, 2013
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Wolf tourism in Eastern Oregon
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BY JENNIFER MARGULIS

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Top: Members of Oregon Wild's Wolf Rendezvous tour hike through wolf country in Eastern Oregon in June.
Above: Guide Wally Sykes (kneeling) displays elk hair and bone fragments commonly found in wolf scat.
Below: Wolfprint: A Wolf paw is bigger than a dog's, almost the size of a man's fist.
// Photos by Joseph Eastburn
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"Hot diggety, that’s fresh,” exclaims 67-year-old Wally Sykes, a longtime Wallowa County resident whose family used to hunt wolves in Alaska. He points to a pile of wolf scat on the disused forest service road in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in Eastern Oregon where we are hiking. Larger than a dog’s, the clumped scat is tapered at the ends and full of reddish elk hair and small bone fragments. Sykes points to the flies buzzing around it. “Can’t be more than 12 hours old, maybe less,” he muses, rubbing the white stubble on his chin and quickening his pace.

Though he grew up shooting woodchucks for fun, Sykes has become an advocate for wolves and other wildlife in Eastern Oregon, the heartbreakingly beautiful region far east of the Cascade mountains that comprises about half the state’s land but has a population of only some 100,000 people, depending how you tally it. The backbone of Eastern Oregon’s economy has historically been mining, logging and agriculture. As mining became almost nonexistent and the timber industry has declined, the region has been reinventing itself in recent years, advertising its natural beauty, outdoor recreation and abundant wildlife to attract visitors.

Sykes — who volunteers as a guide to college kids from Whitman, graduate students from Oregon State University, documentary filmmakers and journalists who want to learn more about wolf behavior and habitat — believes the presence of wolves is good for Oregon’s ecology and economy. He has also been lending a hand as a volunteer to Oregon Wild, a state-based environmental organization spearheading an initiative to prove to business people — including ranchers, farmers, recreation outfitters, hotel owners and other stakeholders — that wolf tourism is one way to attract even more ecotourism dollars and grow the economy in one of the remotest and hardest-to-access parts of the state.

But while most Eastern Oregonians agree that the expansion of tourism is a benefit to the economy, using wolves to bait visitors, so to speak, is a much more sensitive issue. “Tourism in general is a really important diversification of the economy,” explains Sara Miller, economic development specialist for the Northeast Oregon Economic Development District. Miller points to the reinvention of Joseph, Oregon, as an art mecca with bronze statues lining the main street, cafés serving free-range chicken soup with rice, and handmade chocolates sold in locally made wooden boxes, as an example of an Eastern Oregon town that is successfully attracting visitors who spend their money locally.

“Our tourism is natural resource-based,” she says. “Whether it’s cultural tourism, ecotourism or agri-tourism, people are coming here because of the outdoor assets we have.” At the same time, Miller — who co-owns a small ranch with her husband in Wallowa County — says the phenomenon of tourists coming to Eastern Oregon specifically to see the wolves is very controversial. “There’s a lot of variation in people’s opinions and how they feel about it.” Indeed, spend a few hours exploring revitalized downtown Joseph and you’re as likely to see a pickup truck sporting a black antiwolf bumper sticker — “Smoke A Pack A Day” — as you are to see a resident wearing a light-blue pro-wolf T-shirt, “Save a wolf ... save an aspen tree, save a songbird, save a riverbed ... save an ecosystem.”

 



 

Comments   

 
Guest
-37 #1 RE: Wolf tourism in Eastern OregonGuest 2013-07-09 18:35:21
If these people want to watch wolves then they can take them into their backyards to watch them. The wolves are destructive in areas that have no defense as they have been wolf-free for a long time. If the wolves are meant to re-populate they will do so naturally, without being transplanted.
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Guest
+18 #2 Wolf TourismGuest 2013-07-09 19:22:08
You mean like they are now? No wolves have been transplanted to Eastern Oregon.
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Guest
-25 #3 RE: Wolf tourism in Eastern OregonGuest 2013-07-09 21:10:50
I stand corrected. These wolves were transplanted into Idaho and have moved into Oregon. If they had not been transplanted into Idaho there wouldn't be a problem. Livestock and wildlife - deer, elk and sheep populations have suffered greatly due to the wolf population.
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Guest
+26 #4 Guest 2Guest 2013-07-09 21:43:26
...Except that they were already making there way back into NW Montana on their own before they were reintroduced... and the wolves in WA have made their way back on their own.

It was only a matter of time before wolves made their way back to Oregon with or without help. In any case, I really don't think this is the right forum for debating the nuances of wolf populations.

I for one am excited I don't have to get in an airplane or drive 16 hours to go to Yellowstone or Denali. I'm looking forward to a trip to Wallowa County. I'll be sure to check out Barking Mad Farm. It would be great to see a list of businesses in the area that support wolves and other native wildlife. That's where I'd spend my money.
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Guest
+20 #5 Wolf tourismGuest 2013-07-09 22:49:07
I think its great.........t he wolves were here longer before humans wiped them out.........may be you should move somewhere where YOU can be inside the fence and safe:)
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Guest
+16 #6 Understanding WolvesGuest 2013-07-09 23:50:15
I recommend that anyone wanting to truly know about wolves and their culture, read the book "Wolves at my Door". Too often we kill before we think..... and in that act loose what is important in keeping our eco system in balance. I love the ingenious way in which Oregon people keep reinventing themselves in ways that harmonize with nature. I hope the wolf tourism is a resounding success!
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Guest
-6 #7 UnNatural.....Guest 2013-07-10 00:07:24
If there were 10 million Native Americans here when whiteman arrived eating animals for food and clothing .....isn't places like Yellowstone "unnatural" isn't a key component of the eco-system missing?
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Guest
+24 #8 Taz AlagoGuest 2013-07-10 00:31:49
This is the most carefully researched and written article I have read on Oregon wolves and it is remarkable that it appears in a business publication. Being familiar with Wallowa County, I can say the author got the general local tone on the wolf issue dead on, and it's very encouraging that the area can benefit from wolves both ecologically and economically.
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Guest
+8 #9 buffalo manGuest 2013-07-10 03:17:51
Great article !!! If the cattle people would switch to the long surviving, crafty, smarter buffalo, losses would probably go down, and profits go up. Would be happy to help farmers convert to "tatanka."
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Guest
+5 #10 ValueGuest 2013-07-10 20:23:48
Just a small point to ponder while we read this insighful article - while various groups advocate for their interests, they place their own, extrinsic values on wolves. Do wolves no longer have an intrinsic value to them? There is value in just being a wolf, or any part of the earth for that matter. Not trying to incite any argumnents here, just commenting.
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Guest
+2 #11 RE: Wolf tourism in Eastern OregonGuest 2013-07-10 21:04:36
Can anyone point to the recent scientific findings on a study done in Oregon that shows that when wolf populations are destroyed or greatly reduced, the killings of farm animals goes up? I read it but somehow did not keep the reference.
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Guest
+7 #12 Livestock lossesGuest 2013-07-10 22:28:45
Here is a news article on the experience in Oregon, and in other states, re: killing of wolves increasing livestock losses.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/03/02/no-kill-wolf-oregon/1958843/
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Guest
+3 #13 savethewolvesGuest 2013-07-26 03:35:24
Wolves were here first. Not the livestock owners or subdivisions, etc. Livestock owners could have used fencing and livestock guardian dogs for years to coexist with wildlife. Homeowners can use fencing too. The idea that humans have the right to get rid of apex predators who keep a balance in nature is so selfish, short-sighted and frankly pretty stupid. Nature always reminds us when we screw with nature and remove a necessary part of it. Predator and prey have lived together just fine and kept a balance in nature until we came along. People can co-exist with wildlife and make a living if they care about anything other than their own selves. Tourism also brings in a lot of money. People want to see the wolves, the bears, the mountain lions, etc and not the ranchers ruining the land. Yes, we need to make a living but we need the wildlife too and the fencing and the livestock guardian dogs and non animal abusive methods of hunting are all ways to co-exist with nature and wildlife. There is no need for trapping or any other method of hunting that makes the animal suffer to make it easier to kill it. The kill shot works just fine and is only necessary with an overpopulation of prey animals caused by short-sighted people who think predators don't belong in the wild. The predators are not the problem but humans sure are.
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Guest
+3 #14 enoughroom4allGuest 2013-07-31 21:05:47
Having lived within a reintroduced wolf population for 25+ years I can attest to the ability of prey populations to adjust to the presence of a new (long missing) predator. They suffer higher loss in the beginning but quickly (1-2 generations) adapt behavior to avoid the predator during birthing, resting and feeding. Similar behavioral changes can be seen every fall when the gun season opens and the deer quickly go night active. Reported hunter deer harvest in the wolf recovery area has been steadily increasing consistent with the rest of the state for decades. Surely it is within our ability and ethical responsibility as the "chosen" species to adjust our livestock and pet ownership behavior as well. Wolves are opportunists, just make your animals NOT the easiest choice available.
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Guest
-5 #15 RE: Wolf tourism in Eastern OregonGuest 2013-08-14 19:38:45
When one these liberal fools that venture out to Eastern Oregon for "wolf tourism" is attacked or killed by one of these predators, they will change thier tune! Our ancestors eradicated these predators for a good reason.
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Guest
-2 #16 PerspectiveGuest 2013-08-16 19:01:35
Tri-Met area voters need a reality check. Until ODFW institutes a policy of capturing cougars and wolves then releasing them into Washington County, the rest of the state will remain terrorized by left-wing voters and their atrocious lack of foresight. A few weeks of dealing with the fruits of their misguided votes would have Washington County residents clamoring for a special election to right their wrongs.
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Guest
0 #17 RE: Wolf tourism in Eastern OregonGuest 2013-08-16 20:10:46
Please take the time to learn about wolves and their culture.... finding ways to live in balance with nature is an honoring of the earth and all creatures who live here. A great book is "Wolves at Our Door by the Duetchers who spent several years living in close proximity too wolves and as educated naturalists recorded their behaviors etc.... no attacks or even close misses! All of the fear of wild animals is what has brought us to a place of having only 10% of our animal species still alive. Let's learn to live with the rest.... this is their home too.
!
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Guest
+1 #18 RE: Wolf tourism in Eastern OregonGuest 2014-01-14 22:38:00
I think all the people against helping the wolves would learn a lot from the loss of the Yellowstone wolves. There was a huge debate over their impact so they were shoo'd out of the park. Eventually, teh deer and elk population got so out of hand that the trees and plant life near the ground were being practically stripped due to over breeding. There was a huge tic problem that began to develop on top of it all.
It's a very important topic because it shows us just how important natures already created checks and balances are. Without the wolves the entire park suffered drastically. We can learn a lot from the mistakes made at Yellowstone.
If you are interested here is a scholarly article discussing the proposal to reintroduce the wolves.
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08941928909380693#.UtW7OfRDsqg
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