I keep returning to the bone pile of that number, if only to howl at those who find victory in it.
Eighty-one. The sum of the gray wolves living in Oregon.
More than enough for the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to claim in next week's meeting in Salem that the wolf is no longer endangered.
Eighty-one wolves. At least four breeding pairs, ranging across 107,000 square kilometers in eastern Oregon.
"If we had 81 elk in the state," says Amaroq Weiss at the Center for Biological Diversity, "the agency would be freaking out."
But 81 wolves, and state biologists are partying like it's 1999, when a lonely gray male padded over from Idaho, the first wolf seen in Oregon in 50 years.
Delist the wolves, they're telling the commission. Wolves no longer need protected status.
What requires safekeeping, instead, is the 2005 Oregon Wolf Plan, elk-hunting season, and the state's 1.5 million cattle and sheep.
That argument is illogical and unscientific, Weiss says. It screams Idaho, not Oregon. Oregon has long done right by wolves, Weiss argues. Idaho? "A disaster. Idaho only wants two species of animals, elk and deer."
Weiss is a former public defender. She began moving toward the defense of this species when she read the Barry Lopez book, "Of Wolves and Men."
When Lopez published his book in 1978, seven of the 23 sub-species of wolves were already extinct. Their extermination played out, Lopez argues, with unusual perversity:
"In the United States in the period between 1865 and 1885 cattlemen killed wolves with almost pathological dedication. In the 20th century, people pulled up alongside wolves in airplanes and snowmobiles and blew them apart with shotguns for sport.
"In Minnesota in the 1970s people choked Eastern timber wolves to death in snares to show their contempt for the animal's designation as an endangered species."
There's only room for one predator on the prairie, remember, the one armed with the .300 Remington Magnum.
Temporary sanctuary on the federal and state endangered-species lists gave wolves a little breathing room in Oregon.
There's only room for one predator on the prairie, the one armed with the .300 Remington Magnum.
Wild ungulates? If you want to blame the absence of the hippo in Wallowa County on the wolf, fine by me. But last time the state wildlife agency checked, 59,000 Rocky Mountain elk and 223,000 mule deer have survived the wolf's comeback.
grazing on public lands? Since 2009, the crime log for wolves in the wild reads as follows: 79 sheep, 37 cattle, two goats and two herd dogs.
Do those kills explain the animosity cattlemen reserve for these predators? Weiss doesn't think so.
"Because wolves are listed by both the feds and the state," she says, "the segment of society that hates government intervention has turned the wolf into a surrogate of government telling them what they can or can't do.
"That runs very deep."
And that contempt has a firmer hold on rural Oregon than the gray wolf. As Adrian Treves, director of the Carnivore Coexistence Lab at the University of Wisconsin, argues in a letter to the commission, the state underestimates the impact of delisting.
Treves estimates 44 percent of Wisconsin wolves aged seven months or older died each year after protection ended in 2012:
"If that pattern applies after delisting to Oregon, one should expect 34-41 yearlings and adult wolves to die in the year that follows."
Let's hope OR-7, last seen near Ashland, reaches California in time.
Amazingly, the commission's argument seems to be that retaining the wolf's endangered-species status will unleash a murderous response by hunters and ranchers.
"Delisting allows the plan to continue to work into the future," Russ Morgan, the state wolf coordinator, told reporter Kelly House of The Oregonian/OregonLive.
"We used to have no wolves, and now we're at this point where we're talking about a potential delisting. To me that's a success story."
No, it isn't. It's the preface to one. A story that won't end well for 81 gray wolves unless they remain protected.
-- Steve Duin