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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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0713 Wolf 09
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Top: The Wallowa Range borders ranchland near Joseph, Oregon.
Above: Wally Sykes' dog, Kumo, half-wolf and half Malamute, tags along on the Wolf Rendezvous tour.
Below: Tour members hope for a wolf sighting.
// Photos by Joseph Eastburn
0713 Wolf 11

Those in favor of bringing back wolves cite the tremendous ecological benefits to having a top-level predator be part of the landscape. Indeed, several studies show the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone triggered a positive ripple effect; wolves cull from the herds of elk and deer, reducing their numbers and encouraging them to roam more widely, which in turn keeps these ungulates from overgrazing the aspens and other trees and shrubs along the river. The aspen-grove growth and revitalized riparian zones in turn cool the water, providing more habitat for beavers and songbirds and leading even to a flourishing of butterflies.

The positive ripples are also economic, advocates say. Since wolves were successfully reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in 1995, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana have been welcoming at least 40,000 visitors a year eager to attend ranger-led wolf walks and hoping to observe the wolves themselves from a safe distance through spotting scopes. A 2006 financial analysis done by researchers at the University of Montana found that over 90% of the visitors to Yellowstone came to view wildlife, and that $35.5 million flowed into the local economy as a result of wolf tourism that year alone. “Wolves have been immensely important to the growth of our business,” says Nathan Varley, co-owner of The Wild Side, a guiding service for visitors interested in seeing wolves, bears and other wildlife in Yellowstone Park. In business for eight years, The Wild Side charges $575 for an 8-hour day for up to five people in a group. “[We] have grown about 20% each year, right through the recession,” Varley explains, “and now work year-round employing up to six guides.”

That kind of success can be replicated in Eastern Oregon, some locals say. “People like predators,” says Mellie Pullman, a professor of supply-chain management at Portland State University who owns a second home in Enterprise, researches sustainable beef and also helps area ranchers develop sustainable business plans. “That’s a lot of the reason people go to national parks. Everyone wants to see wolves and grizzlies. It’s very exciting.”

Pullman believes that ranchers who market their grass-fed, grass-finished beef to high-end restaurants and suppliers in Portland can actually benefit from the presence of wolves by charging more for wildlife-friendly produce that reflects the values of consumers in the western part of the state. As she serves her guests asparagus omelets, fruit salad and homemade raspberry friands (an Australian pastry) sprinkled with sugar, Diana Hunter, co-owner of Barking Mad Farm, a bed and breakfast outside of Enterprise, likens the breathtaking vistas, diversity of fauna and unspoiled landscape of Eastern Oregon to Africa’s Serengeti, a comparison echoed by others. A herd of bison graze in view of the Hunters’ 1908 three-bedroom accommodations that welcome close to 500 guests a year, but it is the wolves and other wild animals that guests come to see.

“Wolves bring us clients who want to go out and see wolves and be where they are,” Hunter says, though she balks at the phrase “wolf tourism” (too controversial) and prefers to call it ecotourism. With his leathery skin, taupe beaver-felt cowboy hat and blunt speech, Diana’s husband James seems more like a rancher than a B&B owner. Despite their disagreements with some — a permit to expand their business to a second site on property they own 13 miles away was denied, with one rancher calling the Hunters’ business “detrimental to your direct neighbors” — Hunter is quick to point out that their 42-acre property doubles as a working ranch. They grow hay for sale and graze cattle.

Hunter also invites ranchers to talk with her guests — who are fascinated to hear how they are affected by wolves — and is sympathetic to ranchers who lose livestock to the wolves. “Not everyone thinks wolves are the best thing,” she says. “Sometimes they’re not. If they’re in the wrong place, they are not beneficial.”

Eastern Oregon’s pioneering wolf-tracking outfitters acknowledge the complex and contradictory feelings wolves arouse. “On an emotional level wolves symbolize wildness,” says Joe Whittle, an affable, intense 38-year-old photographer and backcountry wilderness guide who was born and raised in Enterprise and the San Francisco Bay Area. “People respond with a lot of emotion.” For Whittle, who is enrolled in the Caddo tribe, part Lenni-Lenape (Delaware) and part Irish, wolves are vital to his heritage. “Wolves were sacred to us; they play a part in our Caddo creation story,” he explains, adding that the Nez Perce Indians did not kill wolves but instead hunted with their help.

Today Whittle and his blond-haired business partner, Jordan Manley, view wolves as an opportunity. Starting this summer, Whittle’s company, Winding Light Adventures, will be taking visitors out on full-day wildlife viewing and tracking trips for $180 a person. Some will hunt game, others will come to learn about, track and perhaps even catch a glimpse of the wolves. For its part, Oregon Wild’s Wolf Rendezvous trips have filled every year since they were first offered. Klavins, the leader of the trip and an outspoken advocate for wolf recovery, points out that “whether you love them or hate them, the controversy in Eastern Oregon around the wolves is bringing a lot of attention to [that] part of the state.” It has other benefits as well. Sasquatch Brewery in Southwest Portland has created an amber ale named after OR-7, the lone male wolf nicknamed Journey traveling throughout the state unsuccessfully looking for a mate. Green Springs Inn, 25 miles east of Ashland, has designed an entire menu around the same wolf.

Klavins wants people to see the larger picture of positive economic impact. Since people who trek through the wilderness need gear, wolf tourism also indirectly benefits outdoor-gear companies that are Oregon-based: Columbia Sportswear, Keen, Icebreaker (a company that makes merino-wool clothing), LaCrosse Footwear, Bogs, RuffWear (which makes hiking gear for dogs) and Leupold (which makes riflescopes, binoculars and spotting scopes), among many more.



 

Comments   

 
Guest
-38 #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
+19 #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
-26 #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
-5 #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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