By Valerie Richardson
In a tongue-in-cheek letter this week to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, Mr. Otter “apologized” for the loss of the wolf and said he would happily replace it with 150 wolves from Idaho, just to make things right.
“In an effort to be a good neighbor and help Oregon maintain and increase its wolf population for the preservation of the species in your state, I am offering to send you 150 wolves from Idaho,” said Mr. Otter, a Republican. “Idaho has more than a sufficient number, in fact many more than the federal government originally required we have, and can spare a few.”
Mr. Kitzhaber, a Democrat, hasn’t taken him up on his offer. Asked whether the Oregon governor had a response, spokesman Tim Raphael said, “No, we don’t.”
Mr. Otter’s offer was facetious, but the episode does highlight the lingering tension and resentment 17 years after the reintroduction the Canadian gray wolf in a program that has the support of the Obama administration but remains a challenge at best and a headache at worst for Western lawmakers and officials.
The Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced wolves into Idaho, Montana and Wyoming in 1995, but the animals have since spread to Oregon, Washington and, in the case of at least one wolf, California. Where wolves go, livestock killings are sure to follow, as well as thinning elk herds, environmental lawsuits and fights over land-use management plans.
The Oregon male wolf in question, known as OR-9, was shot Feb. 2 after he wandered into the state from Oregon by an Idaho hunter near the town of Emmett. His death drew media attention in part because he was the brother of OR-7, the famous “looking-for-love” lone male wolf who entered California last year after a 730-mile trek.
The man who fired the shot had an expired hunter’s tag, but Idaho officials let him off with a warning after finding that he had been incorrectly told that he could keep his 2011 tag until the end of the 2012 hunting season, said Idaho Fish and Game spokesman Mike Keckler.
States began taking over management of their wolf populations after the animal was removed from federal endangered species protection in 2009 - becoming the first creature ever taken off the U.S. endangered species list by act of Congress, rather than scientific review. The wolf is still under federal control in Wyoming, where lawmakers are revising their proposed management plans to meet federal approval.
The number of wolves per state varies widely, with more than 1,000 in Idaho and about 25 in Oregon. As a result, state policies also vary. Idaho, for example, recently launched its second wolf-hunting season, while Oregon does not allow hunting.
As soon as a wolf crosses state lines, however, the animal becomes subject to that state’s management plan, no matter where it was born, said Michelle Dennehy, spokeswoman for Oregon Fish and Wildlife.
Still, some Oregonians didn’t take kindly to the death of OR-9. “We got some calls from Oregon citizens who thought the hunter should be cited,” Mr. Keckler said.
He wasn’t cited because “our officers have some discretion here, and the officer in this case believed that he just made a mistake,” Mr. Keckler said.
The spokesman also noted that it would have been easy enough for the hunter to cover his tracks simply by purchasing a 2012 tag after shooting the wolf. Because the hunter followed procedure by reporting the kill promptly, “The officer felt there was no intent to break the law,” Mr. Keckler said.
Idaho expanded its rules to allow trapping as well as hunting this season, but worries that hunting will wipe out the species appear to be unfounded. In 2009, the state sold more than 26,000 wolf tags, yet hunters bagged only 188 animals. This year, the state has sold more than 40,000 tags, yielding a harvest of 294 wolves, Mr. Keckler said.
“As you can see, the success rate is pretty low,” he said. “Hunting wolves is a challenge. Wolves are very intelligent, and they get wise in a hurry.”
Environmental groups have decried state-sponsored wolf hunting, but supporters say the benefits are already apparent. After the 2009 season, livestock kills fell by about 50 percent, Mr. Keckler said.
“What that says to wolves is, ‘Livestock means people, and it seems people are shooting at us. So we’re going to stay away,’ ” he said.
Jon Hanian, a spokesman for Mr. Otter, said the Idaho governor doesn’t expect a response to his letter, though he hopes it will remind others of the difficulties that come with serving as a home to the gray wolf.
“I think he was having some fun, but he was also trying to make a serious point,” Mr. Hanian said. “We’ve been dealing with the wolf situation since 1995, and it’s a recurring theme. I think the governor was making the point that if other states start getting wolves in the numbers we have, they might look at the situation a little differently.”