Monday, March 14, 2011

Of Wolves, a Billboard, and the Constitution

HCPC was recently part of an effort to erect a billboard on Highway 82, outside Island City, advertising the reward for information leading to conviction of the person who shot the Wenaha wolf last fall. That effort was spearheaded by local activist Wally Sykes, and other groups participating were Oregon Wild & Defenders of Wildlife. Here’s the image of the billboard:

The billboard was up for less than 24 hours when the billboard company took it down due to complaints from the property owner. Now, I respect the rights of a property owner to disapprove of a message on their own property, but what exactly is so offensive about a billboard advertising a reward to help catch the perpetrator of an illegal act? I’ve heard all types of comments about the billboard since then, most of which can be summarized as: “that money should go to ranchers.” But we’ve tried that approach without success: Defenders of Wildlife (a conservation group!) has been the sole provider of compensation for livestock killed by wolves in Oregon, and conservation groups—including HCPC—were the first supporters of a compensation bill in the Oregon legislature … way back in 2005!! The only reason a compensation program wasn’t approved was due to the obstinate actions of the cattlemen’s association.

After our billboard location was rejected, we tried to work with the billboard company to find another site with a willing property owner. But, the billboard company received lots of negative calls about the billboard and decided to saddle us with a hefty replacement addendum to our billboard contract because they were fearful of vandalism to the billboard (and rightfully so, too). At this point, we decided we could no longer pursue the billboard plan, at least not in NE Oregon.

So, what’s the real issue here? It’s that some folks don’t like wolves, apparently to the point of being willing to aid & abet the killer of the Wenaha wolf. And those folks who don’t like wolves don’t want anyone in this area advocating for wolves, either. Now, part of working at HCPC involves going to lots of public hearings, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people ranting about their constitutional rights to drive their ATV anywhere they damn well please, or mine in a fish-bearing creek, or graze their livestock on public land at give-away prices.

We all know, of course, that those so-called “rights” appear nowhere in the constitution. What does appear, however, is the right to free speech. That’s a right that some in this area would revoke for people who don’t think like them.

Why, just last Thursday a group of people gathered for an anti-wolf protest in La Grande. I considered organizing a counter-protest of pro-wolf supporters, and I also got as far as picking up the phone to call Bi-Mart, to ask them why they’re letting this protest start on their property. But I didn’t make that call or organize a counter-protest, because I recognize the right of the people who hate wolves to have their protest. I don’t like what they have to say, and I don’t like that they care not one iota about actual facts, but I still respect their right to protest.

I bet some of those protesters made the negative calls about our billboard. The intolerance for other people’s views is incredible. Heck, we had one official from the livestock industry recently compare HCPC to Al Qaeda—can you imagine the backwards thinking that went into that comment?!? And the funny thing is (if there is any “funny” side to such an incendiary comment), is that by using those words, that person was acting just like the group he claimed we were, because he was trying to stifle our advocacy on wolf and fish issues rather than face us in an open, democratic forum.

I expect more than this from our local community. Laws that are broken must be punished—after all, how many criminals would we be willing to let go if they committed their crimes because they didn’t think the law was worth following, or they stole that car because they needed to drive their sick mother to the hospital, or they embezzled to get money to buy groceries for their hungry kids?

If you don’t like a law, work to get it changed. But in the meantime, it does not reflect well upon our NE Oregon communities for folks to try to stifle the opposition. One thing that makes our communities so livable is that we are generally all law-abiding. We don’t get to pick and chose which laws we follow, we must follow them all unless and until they’re changed.

And as for the people out there who want to change the laws so there are no longer any wolves in Oregon … be sure you will have stiff opposition! The vast majority of Oregonians want wolves to return here, and the politicians know it. Be sure that HCPC is working diligently to ensure the Oregon Wolf Plan—which is a compromise plan drafted by a diverse group of stakeholders—remains in full force and effect.

Greg Dyson,
Executive Director

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