Brent Fenty is the wildlands coordinator for the Oregon Natural Desert Association, an organization that has worked for over a decade to protect, defend, and restore Oregon’s native deserts.

Monday, 17 Feb 2003

BEND, Ore.

I am practicing my Monday morning ritual. After taking my dog, Kenai, out to run in a nearby field, I am in the office bright and early to update our website and ease into the week before the phones begin ringing and the staff starts elbowing past each other on the way to the printer, filing cabinets, and fax machine. Today is bound to be particularly busy as we prepare for a town-hall meeting with Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden (D) and Gordon Smith (R).

ONDA’s cozy headquarters.

ONDA’s office is a testimony to the Keynes-inspired mantra, “Getting your nickel’s worth.” We occupy the eastern wing of the second floor of the Central Oregon Environmental Center; our total floor space is less than 300 square feet. In this area, we manage to stuff five staff members, complete with desks, filing cabinets, printers, phones, a resource library, and, occasionally, three dogs. Welcome to the cozy world of environmental nonprofits.

ONDA is a grassroots organization that has spent over a decade working to protect, defend, and restore Oregon’s native deserts. Yep — for those of you who didn’t know, approximately two-thirds of Oregon is desert. Although Oregon does have the vast playas and shifting sand dunes the public commonly associates with deserts, most of the state’s high desert is covered by sagebrush. The region is home to national treasures such as Steens Mountain, Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the Deschutes River, the John Day River, and the Owyhee Canyonlands.

Recently, a lot of the website updates I’ve worked on have focused on efforts to restore grey wolves to Oregon. Wolves, which were once part of the Northwest’s intricate web of life, have not been spotted in Oregon for over 50 years. During the early 1900s, the federal government employed “wildlife agents” and paid settlers to hunt and trap wolves — and, for good measure, any other predators they could find. These hunters and trappers were frighteningly efficient. By the mid-1900s, wolves were extirpated from the western United States. Today, wolves remain a missing link in Oregon’s ecosystem.

A grey wolf.

Beginning in 1995, with overwhelming national support (a 1998 National Wildlife Federation poll indicated that 76 percent of Americans support wolf recovery), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service successfully reintroduced wolves into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. Since then, wolves have gradually expanded their range.

Over the past few years, at least three wolves have returned to Oregon, only to be deported or killed. With wolf populations growing in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, wolves will continue to return to Oregon. During the past several months, the debate has grown over whether Oregon officials should allow wolves to stay.

Since the reintroduction of wolves in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, livestock predation has been well below predicted levels and no human being has been attacked by wolves. Despite these facts, ranchers like Oregon Cattleman’s Association member Sharon Beck continue to throw around hyperbole like, “Howling wolves may sound nice when you’re sitting at home in front of the TV, but when you’ve got nothing between you and hungry wolves but a thin wall of canvas, it’s scary.”

Conflicting with this kind of politically-driven exaggeration is the fact that less than a few dozen livestock are lost annually to wolves. For comparison’s sake, in Montana alone, more than 200,000 livestock are lost every year to causes ranging from lightning strikes to domesticated dogs. In addition, the public is not hiding from wolves. On the contrary, thousands of intrigued Americans have flocked to see wolves in the wild over the past several years and some guides now make a tidy profit leading wolf-viewing trips.

Groups like ONDA are working to ensure that wolves are allowed to naturally recover within the state and that future generations have the privilege to hear wolves once again howling throughout Oregon’s wilderness.

As far removed as wolves seem from fingers tapping on a keyboard, this morning’s website update is a small part of this larger effort to return wolves to Oregon. Today, I am updating a form that allows the public to provide comments directly to Oregon’s Fish and Wildlife Commission via ONDA’s website.

So now is your chance! If you want to learn more about welcoming wolves back to Oregon or send a message supporting the recovery of wolves in the state, visit our website.

As for me, I’m off to Wyden and Smith’s town hall meeting to advocate for wolves and Oregon’s unprotected desert wilderness.