Top: Jordan Manley and Joe Whittle have launched wildlife viewing tours for hunters and environmentalists.
Above: Whittle, a wildlife tour guid and photographer, is an enrolled member of the Caddo tribe.
// Photos by Joseph Eastburn
Below: OR-10, a female wolf from the Walla Walla pack. She was fitted with a radio collar and released in 2011 in northern Umatilla County.
// Photo courtesy Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
It is a sunny day in late May as Klavins and Sykes walk through an alpine meadow interspersed with stands of trees: lodgepole pine, Doug fir, tamarack and the occasional light-green aspen (protected by “exclosures” to keep the cattle, elk and deer that graze on this land from eating them to the ground). They scramble up a bluff where biscuit root, which has small yellow flowers, is blooming. The smell of wild garlic is in the air. The two men duck under a fallen pine, passing elk droppings and a large, messy pile of bear dung.
Klavins and Sykes stop at a clearing overlooking a vast expanse of trees when a movement in the bushes to the left turns their heads. The chances of seeing an actual wolf may be one in a thousand, but on that day, the duo has hit the jackpot. A grizzled black and gray wolf with large ears and long, thin legs trots toward the group. Ears pricked forward, the wolf raises his head, stops short and stares for just an instant, then tucks his tail between his legs and slinks away.
Protected by the trees and out of sight, he starts yipping, barking and howling — alerting the pack, perhaps, to the presence of intruders. Later I will learn this wolf is OR-4, a wolf that was once targeted for extermination for killing livestock. Wolves remain a lightning rod for controversy in Eastern Oregon. But as wolf recovery gains traction and as tourists flock in greater numbers to see them, stakeholders are working hard to find a way that ranchers, conservationists and business owners can all come together to benefit. “It’s a process of people adapting to the reality of what’s here,” admits Sheehy, the rancher who lost cows to wolf predation. “There is not any way in hell that wolves are going to be removed from Eastern Oregon,” he adds. “It’s become a fact of life.” Sheehy chuckles. “If you can make bucks off people who want to go out and look at wolf scat, I guess that’s okay with me.”