It's one thing to sit in a comfortable Seattle or Portland coffee shop and discuss the concept of protecting wolves so they can roam the remotest portions of Washington and Oregon.
It's quite another to consider the very real issues involved once some of those wolves arrive at the doorstep of larger communities.
That's the predicament in which those who are involved in the wolf issue -- either directly or vicariously -- now find themselves. A couple of wolves have taken up residence just outside Wenatchee, Wash. Far from a tiny rural outpost, the Wenatchee area has a population of more than 45,000. The fact that a predator such as a wolf is a new neighbor is significant.
The Hurd brothers -- Scott, Ross and Doug -- ranch near Wenatchee. Last year they noticed wolf tracks on their property six miles southwest of downtown Wenatchee. Then last fall a neighbor used a remote camera to take a photograph of a wolf. This spring a bull elk turned up dead.
Since then, two more elk and 14 deer have been killed. A sheriff's deputy took a photo of a wolf that hunted down a deer in front of him. Apparently, that wolf doesn't have much fear of humans.
Now the Hurds are missing 11 calves. Though not confirmed wolf kills, it's unlikely the elk, deer and cattle all died of suicide.
Ranchers in Wallowa County, Ore., in the far northeastern corner of the state have been dealing with wolves for years, as have their counterparts in rural Stevens County, Wash. Wolves have killed scores of cattle, costing the ranchers tens of thousands of dollars plus the added effort of trying to keep the predators at bay.
From the experience of ranchers in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and elsewhere, most wolves are not a problem. They stay in the woods and keep to themselves. Others, however, are a huge problem and need to be properly managed.
Wildlife managers in Washington and Oregon expect wolves to continue moving westward from their footholds along the Idaho and Canada borders. As a concept, that is easy to understand. But having one or two or a dozen wolves hunting near populated areas such as Wenatchee -- let alone Seattle or Portland -- presents a reality check for even the most ardent wolf promoters.
The Oregon Legislature is considering allowing ranchers to protect their cattle from a wolf attack without getting a permit first. It'd make more sense for the legislatures of Washington and Oregon to allow any citizen to protect himself, his family or pets or livestock without first getting a permit.
It would make still more sense to take the wolves completely off the state and federal endangered species lists and manage them like other wildlife. That includes quickly removing the ones that cause problems.
Oregon and Washington both have wolf management plans, as is required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We've commented before that wolves really don't need protection. They are efficient hunters, they reproduce like topsy and there are tens of thousands of them just over the border in Canada.
Any way you look at it, wolves are not an endangered species.