Olympic National Park Ready for Wolves?

Gray Wolf; USFS Photo, Gary Kramer

The Gray Wolf, captured by Gary Kramer of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Is it time for us to consider their restoration in Olympic National Park again? Photo found on Wikipedia.

I could hardly believe my eyes when this newspaper article popped up on my screen - "Wolf proponents pack Sequim meeting hall." Sequim is in the rain shadow of Olympic National Park, and it had been a very long time since I had seen "wolf" and "Olympic" mentioned in the same article. About 10 years ago there was a big push to restore the wolf population in Olympic. It was the type of story that was written about a lot, generated a lot of passion on both sides of the fence, and then one day, seemingly, it disappeared off the map.

To restore a species such as the wolf takes a lot of time. In Yellowstone National Park, for instance, it took 13 years between the time the first recovery plan was released to the public, in 1982, to the time the first wolves were released in the park, in January of 1995. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the wolf story has not died on the Olympic peninsula after all this time.

It has been said, time heals all wounds, and while that might not be universally true in the wolf debate, I have heard from a friend who attended the Sequim meeting that the tenor of the gathered crowd had changed since the meetings of yore. Instead of angry cattleman arguing against angry environmentalists, of the roughly 100 people at the meeting nearly all were in support of the state of Washington taking the steps necessary to bring the wolf home to the mountains of Olympic. A sampling of public comment from the crowd (pulled from the newspaper article):

"I want a bumper sticker that says 'Wolves NOW'"
"[I] wanted to be part of something good"
In Yellowstone, wolves "enhanced the ecosystem"

What a shift in attitude since the late 90s when public outcry killed the original plan. What amazed me most was this comment in response to a photo of a snarling wolf on the front page of the local paper:

That was a very poor choice. This image is not representative of normal wolf behavior.

Not even a decade ago that type of image would draw people out of the safety of their homes to attend these public meetings and cry "no wolf, no way!" Times have indeed changed, but perhaps I shouldn't get too excited. This was just one meeting, and this is just the very very beginning of the process. In fact, Olympic National Park doesn't really have this on its radar right now.

Park spokesperson, Barb Maynes told the paper, "part of our mission is restoration of natural ecosystems . . . but we have other priorities."

The park has been hard at work restoring other critters. As you may have seen in a National Parks Traveler article earlier this week, Olympic has just released the environmental assessment for the fisher recovery.

One species recovery at a time I guess, but for those of us who would like to see the wolf return, the public attitude on display at this recent meeting is a long awaited breath of fresh air. There is hope.

Comments

I suppose you wouldn't want the wolves munching on the fishers... but nice to see the effort is still on track. I have started seeing more coyotes here in the Baltimore/DC area -- it's very exciting. Bring in your kitty cats for the evening folks!

I think wolves are great. If kept in check they do good things for their environment. But it sounds like at least one of the people in that meeting have their heads in the clouds when it comes to how "wild", wild wolves really are. These are not the neighbor's chocolate lab down the street, they are amazing hunting and killing machines. All they want to do is eat meat, livestock or wildlife, and make little wolves and given the right habitat they can do both very well. Look at Idaho for example. Wolves have boomed there in the last few years and are still booming and now Idaho is trying to legally allow hunters to control the wolf population. I would venture to say that most if not all of the pro wolf people at that meeting are anti hunting, but the best way to control over-expanding wolf populations is to allow hunters to harvest them in carefully controlled numbers. I am all for wolves being reintroduced, but the people near Olympic Nat. Park need to understand what these animals are, wild beasts, and not a cuddly dog who plays fetch.

One note on booming wolf numbers, a report by Ed Bangs on Wyoming wolf numbers put out this summer suggests that Wyoming wolf totals this year may decrease slightly (this is before Wyoming plans to go hog wild in exterminating wolves).

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

All it will take to change the tune for one of these pro-wolf anti-hunting people is to have one of their very expensively bred dogs to be savagely munched on by a very hungry and sly member of canis lupus. So they had better be careful where they let their little Fi-fi out of the Volvo, especially in the northern Rockies. Real life ain't always like a Kevin Costner movie.

I've seen coyote lovers become overnight converts to bounty killing in the same way. The wilderness is really WILD people!

It will take several years before anyone can go "hog wild" in any state. Actually there will never be anyone ever going "hog wild". The animals are far to protected to allow that to happen and hunting is actually the best way to control the species populations of game animals. Hunting isn't a free for all, it is a thoroughly managed and proven effective way to control species populations.

This is the best news I have heard since my return home to the PNW.
Now to do something about those pesky Mountain Goats in the Olympic National Park ;-}
"Real life ain't always like a Kevin Costner movie."
Nor is it like Disney's "Never Cry Wolf."
Thank the heavens...

Wyoming's plan doesn't just call for a hunting season; Wyoming's plan calls for wolves outside a certain area to be classified as vermin. There is a lot of question also whether the number of packs that Wyoming must maintain can be maintained with the policies in place.

Anyhow, I'm not here to get into it about Wyoming's policy; my point was that wolf numbers don't necessarily grow infinitely. When one says that their numbers need to be kept in check, there's a presumed social value being expressed there (just as there is when someone says elk numbers need to be kept in check). Pointing out a stat was to get people to put their own cards on the table. Fido gets run over by cars all the time; livestock out West are also run over by cars; no one worries about that. Wolves are seen as a direct competitor in the way that cars aren't; it's interesting to cut through things to figure out why.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

i am all for wolves...i think that hunting wolves should be illegal everywhere......healthy wolves have never attacked humans before.....i love them....my friend told me about them....before i met her...i knew nothing.....she taught me everything i know....and now both me and my friend have tried so hard to make it illegal in michigan to hunt them.....i hope it stays illegal.........forever

yes a bad way to kill off wildlife so more developers can come in and screw natures ecosystem with dumb condos for the bloody rich

I live on the Olympic Peninsula, west of Sequim. My grandparents milked cows on the "Sequim Prairie", with about 300 other farm-families. Over the last 40 years, Sequim became the largest community on the Peninsula, as farmland was developed into originally retirement housing, and more lately as a general development for folks seeking a less urbanized home, but with a more suburban character, rather than a 'straight' rural culture. Sequim is a suburban-like 'enclave', within a strongly rural region.

It is not surprising that Sequim folks show much more interest in reintroducing wolves than the other communities of the Peninsula. This was well-documented in the careful social surveys that accompanied the preliminary investigation of the proposal to reintroduce wolves, during the late 1990s.

However, it is also true that Sequim some years ago undertook to make pets out a small remnant herd of Roosevelt Elk that would come through their fields and yards each year. Now they have a very much larger herd of elk which likes to spend a much larger amount of its time ... breaking down their fences and trampling their grounds ... and the nice folks of Sequim now often complaint about the elk being such a nuisance.

It seems doubtful the elk-weary folks of Sequim - who still oppose hunting the elk - have overlooked that wolves could help relieve their present problem. The larger problem is, though, they did not think through their earlier ideas about elk (nor listen to experienced advisers who cautioned them), and they appear to be repeating the mistake, in the case of wolves.

The greatest concentration of elk habitat and elk herds, is in the western parts of the Olympic Peninsula. Since the Olympics are actually only a rather small region, and the physiography is radially-circularly arranged, wolves introduced at any point in the Olympic area would soon spread to all other areas ... whether their elk-control was wanted or appropriate elsewhere or not.

Communities in the west of Olympic Peninsula remain strongly rural and resource-based. They opposed wolf-introduction. Candidly, the way Congress approved the social survey upon which further action (inaction) on the wolf proposal was based, seems to have been predestined to lead to the outcome that prevailed. In other words, Congress responded to wolf-proponents request for a study of wolf-introduction, by conducting scientific studies of communities known beforehand to oppose the idea. Documentation is available.

If the sampling of opinion conducted in Sequim is repeated in other parts of the Olympic Peninsula, you may well be surprised, yet again. Firstly, the Congressionally funded study found & emphasized, that the main objection to wolves was not the wolves, but that interest groups and agencies from outside the jurisdiction, sought to make decisions that would affect the local jurisdiction. Many rural residents would in fact prefer that the Peninsula be as wild as it can be. They live here, and put up with the area's shortcomings, because they like it wild. Sharing the place with wolves is hardly anathema to the lifestyle or philosophy of many residents.

The Sequim folks made an unfortunate and avoidable mistake with their local elk. It is possible to make a similar short-sighted misstep, with wolves. Elk could be heavily devastated, all across the Peninsula. If it were decided to 'adjust' the population of elk (which some suggest, but could be difficult to justify), wolf-introduction as a way to achieve it could readily prove to be heavy-handed overkill.

An elk die-off could lead to further wildlife destabilization effects, especially with cougar and deer.

Wolves are known to be making their way into the Cascade Mountains, not by introduction, but by natural dispersal in the absence of hunting & trapping pressure. These are natural populations which are moving and establishing themselves in a cautious and stable fashion. It is possible, and even anticipated, that some will before long find the Olympic Peninsula, and will gradually work their way into the ecological opportunities that exist here.

To allow the wolves to come on their own, to 'feel' and 'work' their way in, could give us the best of all possible outcomes - wolves in a truly natural state, and a much reduced risk of radical ecosystem disturbance.

I am a hunter and have brother who live and archery hunt in Idaho. They have seen first hand the impact to elk and deer in the area that the introduction of the wolf has affected that State. The last wolf killed on the Olympic Peninsula was about 1926, near Sequim. What led to their demise, is that the wolves will not stay in Olympic Nat'l Park, they will move down into the foothills like they did before, killing sheep, goats, Llamas and other domesticated animals. In Idaho my brothers have witnessed first hand 6 cow elk laying dead along a river, throats, hind end ripped by attacking wolves, who then ripped out the unborn elk calves. Leaving the dead cow elk and moving on. They are killing machines pack mentality, they have seen elk and deer populations drop drastically in areas they have hunted for years. I understand from their perspective only that the original wolves that roams Idaho were primarily Timber wolves which mate for life, stay pairs or small family packs. Yet the wolves that were introduced to Idaho were the Ontario Grey Wolves, which hunt in large packs. I believe the introduction into Olympic Nat'l Park will be a huge mistake and will decimate the elk & deer populations in the area.