Why is it that those farthest from a problem seem to think they know the most about it? Particularly one that's been around in these parts since at least 1843?
We are talking about government's role in dealing with wolves, a relentless predator of domestic livestock.
No sooner had the two Eastern Oregon ranchers who suffered stock loss from wolves brought the issue to the Legislature than the Portland Oregonian, the state's largest newspaper, editorially called their request "overreaction" under a headline of "The same old howls over wolves."
Stockgrowers want the Oregon Endangered Species Act amended to allow killing or trapping wolves that are chasing, harassing or attacking livestock.
As the state law now stands, even though the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf was delisted by the federal government on May 4, the critter remains on Oregon's ESA list until the state Fish and Wildlife Commission takes action. There's no indication its members have any intention of even starting that action.
A bit of history is in order.
Oregon's first government, a provisional one agreed to in 1843 by recent emigrants from the United States and retired French Canadian trappers farming in the Willamette Valley, was triggered by livestock predation. Historians called the talks leading up to the vote at Champoeg the "wolf meetings." Forming a government was a way to provide ongoing protection from wolf depredations. Provisional, then territorial government predated Oregon's statehood in 1859.
The wolf, after decades of being listed as a predator, went extinct in much of the West. It wasn't until the federal government reintroduced wolves, this time with Endangered Species Act protection, that the far-ranging canines reestablished themselves in the Northern Rockies and began swimming the Snake River to dine in Oregon.
Gray wolves have a range something akin to the diesel truck radius of a hay-hauling flatbed. Youngsters can go more than 500 miles from their point of birth to set up new territory, and if competition turns up, they may do it all over again.
Aware of that mobility, in 1999 state wildlife biologists and then a task force drawn from diverse interests began crafting a state wolf management plan. It was adopted by the wildlife commission in 2005, with ranchers at the time noting that the Legislature also needed to amend the state ESA to allow the killing of problem wolves.
The Legislature, dominated by urban interests, balked at an amendment in 2005 and 2007. In April of this year, a pair of wolves, already under the eye of state wildlife biologists who had set up cameras near Curt Jacob's sheep in a Baker County pasture, killed 24 lambs in two attacks. Tik Moore, another Baker rancher, lost a calf to wolves.
Anyone who kills a wolf illegally in Oregon risks a $100,000 fine and a year in the county jail. That's the law stockmen want changed.
We'd venture that if a gray wolf were prowling Southwest Broadway in Portland and swiped property belonging to an urban journalist, there would be a call for protection. That's exactly what this state-protected predator is doing each time it kills a lamb that may be worth $100 at market time, or a calf that that can be an $1,100 steer when he goes to the processing plant.
It's not a question of status quo and making room for wolves, as the Oregonian concludes. This is about protecting valuable property, but only when a wolf is in attack mode. The stockgrowers' request is far from open season on any wolf.
The Legislature needs to fast-track this request and finish up a critical part of the state's Wolf Management Plan adopted back in 2005. -SC