The wolf has always gotten bad press. To early Christians he was a symbol of evil, or even the Devil himself (in contrast to Jesus, the "good shepherd" protecting the flock). In folklore, from werewolf legends to tales about the Big Bad Wolf who harassed the Three Little Pigs and the wolf who almost ate Little Red Riding Hood, Canis lupus consistently was cast as a villain - though sometimes a comic one.
His literary reputation, combined with a tendency to grab the occasional spring lamb or calf, didn't endear the wolf to European-Americans as they moved across America and set up farms and ranches. The result was a campaign of extermination that eliminated wolves from most of the lower 48 states, including Oregon.
Wild wolves hadn't been seen in this state from the 1940s until January 2008, when a female made it across the Snake River from Idaho and established a pack in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. There are now two packs - the original Imnaha pack, with 10 wolves, and the Wenaha pack, with four.
The survival of the Oregon wolf population is precarious - which is why it's a good thing a state-sanctioned hunt for two of the animals has been called off.
After the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife determined that wolves had killed six calves in the Wallowa Valley this spring, it issued a permit to kill up to seven wolves if caught in the act of attacking livestock. It also gave permission for state Wildlife Services to hunt down and kill two wolves from the Imnaha pack.
Four conservation groups went to court to challenge ODFW's action, and in response Wildlife Services agreed to put off the wolf hunt for at least four weeks. Hopefully it will have the sense to call it off indefinitely.
With only 14 individuals, the Oregon wolf population can ill afford to lose more of its members. (Two other wolves were killed by Wildlife Services last year.) The wolves don't seem to be posing any immediate threat: None are known to be in the Wallowa Valley now, and there haven't been any livestock killings for at least a month.
There's also evidence that the two Imnaha wolves sentenced to death aren't guilty. The conservation groups say information from their radio collars indicates they weren't even in the valley when the calves were taken.
The state currently is re-evaluating its five-year-old wolf management plan, and it should rewrite it to put more emphasis on non-lethal means of predation control and less on slaughter. "With only 14 wolves and one breeding pair in the state, killing wolves should be the option of last resort," said Rob Klavins of Oregon Wild, one of the groups bringing the court action.
So here's a GLASS SLIPPER to the conservation groups for blocking the ill-advised wolf hunt, and one BOOT to ODFW for sanctioning it in the first place - with the other BOOT to follow if it changes its mind this summer and decides to go ahead with the killing after all.