Oregon’s legislators and governor have a big decision to make regarding the future of wolves in the state. It is a litmus test on whether these leaders are honest, decent and wise and whether they serve the hopes and dreams of a clear majority of Oregonians, or other interests. Will these supposed leaders do the right thing for wolves and for a brighter future for Oregon or will they fall back on the dark side of Oregon’s history?
Honest science, healthy ecosystems and biodiversity, the public trust doctrine, basic decency and respect and the clear will of the majority, all favor wolf protection. 96% of Oregonians told the state wildlife agency they favor wolf protection. Additionally, Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife website makes crystal clear that the presence of approximately one hundred wolves has resulted in a near zero effect on the state’s 1,300,000 cattle, as depredation by wolves is barely out of the single digits per year. No honest person can claim with a straight face that Oregon has anything resembling a wolf problem because it does not have such a problem.
The truth is, just as in nearby Idaho, there is a people problem, but in Oregon it comes from a relatively small number of people. Their long held prejudices and their willingness to demonize and kill vital and innocent wolves while lying about them is well known. Some have no shame in spreading utter nonsense about ‘Canadian super wolves’, snarling monster beings and the end of the world triggered by…. fairy tales.
But Oregon is supposed to be different, isn’t it? Oregon is a green and enlightened state, where honesty, decency and justice rule, right?
I had the pleasure of visiting Oregon for three weeks in June and July of 2014. I arrived in the state with a high regard for its vast natural beauty, its magnificent native wildlife, lush forests and magical coast. The forward thinking reputation of its people resonated in my mind.
After an enjoyable week with a hiking club based in Portland, I rented a car and drove to the Wallowa Valley drawn by my respect for Chief Joseph and his Nez Perce people whose sacred homeland this had been for thousands of years. I hiked into the mountains and canoed, took lots of pretty pictures of horses and deer (they are everywhere), water and forests and people and their dogs. I explored and lingered for many hours in the very field where Chief Joseph gathered with his people as they prepared to flee their homeland, their very lives hanging in the balance. My heart felt heavy and sad, as if the unbearable heart ache of 800 innocent souls still hovers over this valley and the beautiful green field guarded by trees and mountains.
The Nez Perce were the peaceful native tribe who saved the entire Lewis and Clark expedition from certain starvation and death only seventy years earlier. President Jefferson personally promised, in gratitude, that the Wallowa Valley would never be taken from the Nez Perce. Later Presidents re-affirmed that promise, even as more white settlers invaded and threatened to steal the land from its rightful owners. The settlers kept coming and kept threatening. Gold was discovered nearby and the land was taken, the promises broken.
The ancestors of these white settlers are among the 8,000 people who call the Wallowa Valley home today. Some of these people are present day Wallowa cattle ranchers who mythologize and demonize wolves, pressure the state wildlife agency to take action, persistently lobby state legislators and the governor to do something about the wolf problem, the problem that exists in their own minds.
I visited the tourist town of Joseph and its wonderful museums, including the Maxwell Plantation Museum dedicated to African Americans who worked for a time as lumbermen in the region. There I learned that the founding state constitution of 1859 forbade the presence and citizenship of African Americans anywhere in Oregon.
Just east of the Wallowas, I explored the dusty, rugged town of Pendleton. On the Pendleton Underground Tour, I learned of the hard working Chinese men who helped build the early railways of the expanding United States. When their decades long hard labor was done and the rail lines complete, they were not wanted by the white settlers who had only recently established the new town of Pendleton. These human beings, thousands of miles from their native land, excavated a village beneath the streets of early Pendleton, a cavernous and dark place. There they lived, set up small businesses and did their best to survive from day to day. Above ground, it was legal to shoot a “Chinaman” for no reason. These poor souls survived in their underground village into the early 1900’s, which is not much more than a hundred years ago.
This not so distant history is part of Oregon’s past, or is it?
On behalf of ecologically vital, remarkably intelligent and social, deeply family-connected and innocent wolves, on behalf of the hopeful and decent majority of Oregonians you are supposed to serve and who have spoken clearly on this issue, in light of the facts and honest science, with full knowledge of your obligation to at long last live up to the public trust doctrine in which wildlife belongs to everyone and is to be managed (or left alone) accordingly, I am asking Oregon state legislators, the governor and the state wildlife agency, which Oregon will you be? The enlightened Oregon of your reputation or the dishonest, cruel and corrupt Oregon of your past?