Wolves on Walkabout

by Andy Dappen

In a presentation that was educational and entertaining told to a standing-room-only audience at the Wenatchee River Institute (WRI) on Wednesday evening (January 14), biologist David Moskowitz recounted his adventure of following the 1200-mile-long trail of a GPS-collared wild wolf, named OR7, from its birth place near Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness to its new territory near the Oregon-California border in the hills near Ashland.

Following the GPS course created by OR7 himself when, as a young adult, he dispersed from the Imnaha Pack he was born into and went on walkabout to find new territory and a potential mate, Moskowitz and a small team of cohorts spent 28 days on foot and on bikes retracing the wolf’s route. They investigated the terrain OR7 spanned and talked to ranchers, loggers, and townsfolk along the way for their perspectives about how humans and wolves interrelate. They also pondered the wonder of a lone predator making this multi-year journey through hostile terrain with nothing more than wile, wits, and teeth to support it. Moskowitz and company, in contrast, had a vehicle, teammates, cartons of food, and packs of equipment supporting their journey.

A warm meal… to a wolf.

The perspectives about wolves in the territory that OR7 traversed while seeking new terrain to populate, of course, were highly polarized. On one side of the Cascades, posters with wolves in the cross-hairs of a telescopic sight summarized the prevailing opinions of ranching communities. On the other side of the Cascades, bumper stickers stating ‘OR7 for president’ captured the sentiments of many recreationalists and environmentalists who believe wolves should ascend to a higher office in this world in which humans have such a heavy footprint.

To date, OR7’s journey and fate have been happy ones. He is the first known wolf to wander into Northern California for nearly a century; has found a foxy female, also on walkabout, to “shack up” with; and has settled into domestic bliss near the Oregon-California border where he is currently raising two pups. Another adult wolf that also dispersed from an unknown location has also found its way to this unlikely outpost. If humans allow it, this is a pod of wildness back on the landscape in which we can take some pride. It may also be an example that we old dogs, who frequently get things wrong in our management of nature, can learn new tricks.

This story is also a happy one on a different, although oddly parallel, front. For the past few years the sponsor of the event, Wenatchee River Institute (WRI) — a non-profit with the mission to educate about sustainability, the natural world, and inspire the next generation of conservationists — has been on its own 1200-mile financial journey trying to establish its own home territory and establish a pack that will sustain it.

An interim executive director helped the organization contain the worst of its financial hemorrhaging. Now Patrick Walker, the new executive director with all of two months of service under his belt, is tasked with leading WRI to a purposeful, yet financially sustainable future. Walker is personable, energetic, full of ideas, and whatever strings he and staff pulled for this event brought over 100 naturalists and recreationalists to Leavenworth for the evening. With a growing roster of other interesting programs for adults and youth alike, Walker hopes many more locals will support the organization’s mission and join the WRI pack.

NOTE: This article was originally posted on 01/16/2015.

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