Thursday, September 29, 2011

Where The Wild Things Are, and Are Not

"There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot." - Aldo Leopold

Two mornings ago I saw a live porcupine ambling along the side of a backroad. It was the first live porcupine I had seen in years. I worry that we will turn around one day and the porcupines will be gone. I used to see them several times in the fall and spring, twenty years ago. You'd see at least 4 or 5 porcupine carcasses in the road back then pretty much every year. Then there were 1 or 2 carcasses a year, and then maybe 1 every couple years, and no sign of live porcupines. I am inordinately glad to see a live porcupine again, and wished it well.

That same morning I saw a mature bald eagle on the Grande Ronde River just south of Elgin. Seemed early in the year to see one there - usually they show up mid to late winter on that stretch of the river, at least for the last few years. Before that, it was more unusual to see one, and in my lifetime, bald eagles were on the verge of extinction. I love seeing them return again to these rivers.

The ospreys are off the nest now on the boxes I check on my way towards La Grande. Every summer now I watch the young, so grateful for the nest boxes put up for the ospreys to use. Watching the return of ospreys to the Grande Ronde and Indian Valleys celebrates a genuine success story for the return of another native species back from the edge of oblivion.

Wildlife asks so little to survive and thrive - putting up a nest box, stopping use of DDT, slowing down when we drive through a wildlife corridor, leaving some snags when we log, planting some native shrubs and wildflowers - often no more than a small margin of tolerance and forbearance.

Since I was little, I have been one of those Aldo Leopold talked about, when he wrote there are some who cannot live without wild things. In the 7th grade I read Sand County Almanac for the first time, and fell in love with his words. It seemed he spoke for me.

Today, I mourn for wild things.

I was glad when wolves first returned to Oregon, and delighted when the first pups were born to the Imnaha pack. I listened at night, hopeful of hearing the howl I have never heard in this county.

Today, I mourn three times over.

I mourn the loss of two individual wolves of the Imnaha pack. Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, late last Friday, announced they were going to kill two of the remaining four wolves of the Imnaha pack.

I mourn the loss of the pack - one of the wolves they will kill is the collared alpha male, and the other is the sole remaining sub-adult. Killing the alpha male and the other hunting adult of what is now such a small pack is killing the pack as an entity. The Imnaha pack, the first wolf pack in Oregon since wolves were hunted out in the 1900's, will be no more.

I mourn the loss of the pup, who in all probability will not survive the winter without a pack to hunt for it. And especially I mourn for B-300, the collared alpha female who swam the Snake River from Idaho to reach Oregon, and started the successful return of wolves to Oregon. Wolves mate for life - and seldom if ever accept lone wolves into their pack. It will be just her and the pup, and then just her - and it breaks my heart.

Wolves, like all wildlife, require that margin of human tolerance and forbearance to survive. There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. For those of us who cannot, that margin is one we embrace. Unfortunately, those who can live without wild things are determining that all of us will live without them as well.

"Wilderness is not the wide open spaces, but the wild things that fill it." - Chris Morgan

I mourn the loss of wilderness in this corner of the wild that I love so very much.

- Emily Denio

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