No matter where people and wolves share the same landscape, conflict inevitably arises. Sometimes the conflicts are based in reality; sometimes they are not. Few animals other than wolves are able to consistently elicit in us deep emotional and political responses — responses that polarize us as stakeholders in their well-being, or polarize us as community members.
When wolves were reintroduced to the Northern Rocky Mountains in 1996, from two source populations released in Yellowstone National Park and in central Idaho, it was with the understanding that they would eventually tread beyond these places and reclaim lands long lost to them. Oregon was predicted to be one of the first states to receive dispersing wolves seeking new home ranges and hunting grounds. Livestock ranchers in Oregon braced for these events with trepidation. In the spring of 1999, the first wandering wolf crossed the Snake River and into Oregon’s Hells Canyon Wilderness — the young female yearling’s arrival occured about seven years earlier than predicted. That was all it took to wake Oregonians to the possibility of wolves in their midst.
Aimee Lyn Eaton’s new book, Collared: Politics and Personalities in Oregon’s Wolf Country, takes a fine-scaled in-depth look at the political process of Oregon’s preparations for receiving gray wolves. But she also puts stakeholders in her cross-hairs and reports on the multiplicity of perspectives held by biologists, ranchers, rural citizens and conservationists. Eaton followed biologists in the field as they searched for wolf sign, pored through comments submitted to the state as well as through meeting minutes from a Wolf Action Committee (designed by stakeholders to map out a wolf management plan). She even ventured into small rural towns and met with affected ranchers to learn first-hand of their experiences and fears. Eaton presents her research and observations plainly and without prejudice, in a manner which lays out the facts while deftly avoiding falling into the too-typical tropes of “wolves are angels” or “wolves are devils.”
Eaton’s love of the outdoors is clearly expressed in scenes detailing her search for wolves with various Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists, where a sense of wonderment and passion emanates from her sentences. But what makes the book work well is that she has the same degree of passion and tightly focused attention when communicating the concerns and experiences of ranchers. She doesn’t discount or denigrate them, as too many wolf supporters do — she gives them their due, and then some. The result is an intensely honest account of wolves doing what wolves do (dispersing to new lands, seeking mates, breeding, raising pups, hunting natural prey, stalking livestock, moving around the landscape), and how Oregonians of all walks of life responded to their arrival.
Collared is a quick read that can be completed in one or two sittings. It’s a wispy book of just 135 pages (including the Notes, Index and Addenda), but it’s packed with information and various perspectives. It’s a much-needed chronicling of the early chapters in a state’s history of readjusting to a reintroduced predator. This book, released by Oregon State University Press in October 2013, will be of interest to environmental historians, wolf biologists, wildlife managers, professional conservationists, and those seeking to better understand the intricacies of managing one of the most polarizing wildlife species in the world: Canis lupus.