Orr, And Ore. And Our Wolves

I hesitated on posting links to the three stories below.

They were in the cue to publish on our blog yesterday, but for one reason or another, I held back.

The first is Rich Landers’ article about George Orr, who retired from the Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission at the end of 2010.

The Spokane Spokesman-Review outdoors columnist terms him one of the citizen panel’s “biggest guns.”

And perhaps because the Spokane resident and former legislator is done serving on the commission, he was more open about his frustrations while on it.

I hesitated because his words were unusually harsh against sportsmen. I’ll bet 10 pounds of claw meat he won’t get invited to any Puget Sound Dungie boils this summer.

But upon reflection, I think we’re all big boys and girls and can handle it.

Landers quotes him:

“People don’t want to understand the whole issue. If they want more funding for fish hatcheries, they don’t care about funding for habitat or anything else.”

“People don’t want to hear about a few restrictions on lead fishing tackle that might inconvenience them even if it means saving loons and swans.”

When shellfishers recently pushed for more liberal recreational limits on crabs, Orr took a minority commission position and sided with the commercial crabbers who would, in turn, have to accept lower quotas.

“If recreational crabbers who live in Puget Sound get to keep more crabs, that means higher prices and fewer crabs available for people who live elsewhere and want to buy crabs from the supermarket,” he said. “Everybody has a stake in those crabs, not just the people who can go out their door and catch them.”

Then there are the two articles that came out of two very different talks on wolves in extreme eastern Oregon last weekend.

I hesitated on posting a link to the story by the Blue Mountain Eagle of John Day, Ore., because it makes some assertions that I just don’t buy, and is pushed by some with clear political agendas, including a former Idaho gubernatorial candidate who awaits trial for an elk poaching incident last fall.

But I recalled that after the author Douglas Chadwick spoke with a pair of stridently anti-grizzly ranch women in the Yellowstone area, he began to get a better grasp of the real depth of their feelings.

As the Eagle’s Carl Sampson reports:

“They did not put oatmeal-eating wolves in the Bitterroot, and they did not put oatmeal-eating wolves in Oregon,” said Mike Popp, a hunting guide who said he has seen the damage wolves caused to the elk populations in Idaho. He lives in the Lolo region, where he said the elk population plummeted from 16,000 in 1995 to 2,100 currently.

“I’m just trying to let people know what is going on,” said Dale Potter, who organized the meeting. He fears that if wolves continue to proliferate in the region large-scale cattle operations will be impossible to sustain.

“There are people who will tell you that the wolf is a tool to destroy the rural economy,” he said.

He called for area residents to join forces and speak out about the threat wolves present.

“It’s not just going to kill cows, it’ll change our whole lifestyle,” Potter said.

He called for public demonstrations, at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife office in La Grande and at the Capitol in Salem.

Public safety is a growing concern, the speakers said.

A teacher was killed last year in rural Alaska, according to the Los Angeles Times, and a Canadian was killed several years ago in northern Alberta.

“A lot of people are afraid to walk their dogs on the area’s trails,” Linda Graning, a volunteer at the meeting, said.

The third article, by the Argus Observer of Ontario, Ore., counterbalances the Eagle‘s piece. It details a talk that Carter Niemeyer, a retired federal wolf recovery coordinator in Idaho and Montana, gave to an audience at Treasure Valley Community College last Friday.

I hesitated because the reporter wrote, “However, Niemeyer attributed any downturn in elk numbers to a loss of habitat.”

Ummmm, say what?!?! I knew he was outspoken, but that went against the evidence.

A couple hours of email and phone tag later, Niemeyer caught up to me from his Boise home. He said the paraphrasing was an “oversimplification” of what he believes — which is, the decline is linked to wolves and habitat.

“I’ve been in the battle too long to say it’s just the habitat,” he told me.

He says he stays in the fight to counter “the lying, the embellishment,” which he says is “rampant.”

“It drives me nuts to read all the crap out there. It’s surreal,” he says.

He says we need to “get off the emotional fear trip that everyone’s trying to convey.”

Niemeyer terms himself a “middle of the road guy” and hopes the debate — now dominated by extreme anti-wolfers — can be toned down. He tells me that moderate hunters and pro-wolf lobbies  have gone silent on the issue.

His new book, Wolfer — at turns laugh-out-loud amusing (to establish his bona fides with west-central Alberta locals who will help him radio-collar wolves for eventual reintroduction back in the U.S., he wins a wine-soaked wolf-skinning contest with a fur trapper) — outlines his decades at USDA Wildlife Services and then with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

He scoffs at stories that bringing wolves into Yellowstone and Central Idaho was done to “disarm America and do away with hunting.”

“All of us hunt, all of us fish, some of us trap,” he says of the federal biologists working on wolf recovery in the Northern Rockies. “Trust us, none of us did that to kill our recreational pastime.”

He told the community college audience he supports the cattle industry, and told me that as a livestock-kill investigator, he knows the pain ranchers experience when losing animals. That said, he’s also called BS on stock deaths that have nothing to do with wolves.

As politicians attempt to get Canis lupus off the Endangered Species Act through various bills, Niemeyer says he too is for delisting.

(I didn’t ask him this question, but on the book’s Facebook page, Niemeyer responds to a question about those bills by saying, “I am opposed to Congress trying to legislatively delist wolves to circumvent the ESA. It is a dangerous precedent to pick and choose which species the laws of the land apply to.”)

He’s for wolf hunting, says it will “never get rid” of them, and adds, “The quicker they have fair-chase sensible hunting seasons, that’ll cool it down quicker than anything else.”

Give hunters a couple seasons, maybe a couple wolf rugs, and the howling will fade, Niemeyer thinks.

We got to talking about Washington’s wolves. He’s the guy who slapped collars on the Lookout Pack’s alpha pair in July 2008 — the state’s first confirmed breeding pack in 70 years — and the alpha male in the Diamond Pack in July 2009.

I’ve been paying especially close attention to the Lookout gang since it resides in the upper Methow Valley, where I’ve hunted mule deer for over a decade, but was surprised to learn that the alphas were pretty long in the tooth when Niemeyer caught them.

“They were gummers,” he says, “no less than 7 or 8 years old, way over their prime.”

They had chipped, broken and yellowish teeth that were worn to the gums, he says, and called the pair “probably the oldest I’ve ever handled.”

A pair of government wildlife biologists who monitor the pack suspect the alpha female, which disappeared last May, was shot, but Niemeyer’s take makes me wonder anew.

Who knows.

Ahh, hell, I’ve hesitated posting this blog long enough, I have actual work to do, so here goes nothing.

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