EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the latest issue of Terra+, Oregon State University’s research newsletter. We invite you to read this moving essay by an Oregon State University wildlife biologist who has compassion for ranchers when wolves attack their cows and sheep, even as she marvels at the awesome power and beauty of wolves in the wild.
By Patricia Kennedy
LIKE MANY WILDLIFE BIOLOGISTS in my generation, my first wolf sighting was in the late 1990s in Yellowstone National Park. With 23 undergraduate wildlife biology majors in tow, I gazed incredulously as the 18-member Lamar Pack stalked a herd of elk; an amazing sight I never dreamed I would see in my lifetime. As a graduate student in the late-1970s we rarely discussed wolf management; bringing them back didn’t seem feasible. Social acceptance of wolves was light-years away.
I didn’t fully understand the concerns about wolf reintroduction until I found myself decades later staring at several wolf-killed beef carcasses on the Zumwalt Prairie in northeastern Oregon. It was not a pretty sight. The owner who stood next to me sadly murmured, “It’s not about the money – we regularly manage economic loss; but I am tasked with taking care of these animals, and at this I failed.”
The ecological benefits of wolves and other large predators are indisputable; ecosystems with overabundant prey, such as elk, don’t function as well as systems with the full complement of trophic levels. These “complete” ecosystems will likely be more resilient to future impacts from climate change and disrupted fire regimes. In the long-term the ranchers will benefit from these ecosystem services. However, this does not compensate for the grim reality of wolf predation on stock; these losses need to be treated with compassion by society and minimized, preferably with non-lethal methods.
Wildlife biologist Patricia Kennedy is a researcher in the Eastern Oregon Agriculture & Natural Resource Program and Department of Fisheries & Wildlife.