Carter Niemeyer has handled hundreds of wolves, usually the sedated variety, throughout his long career.
But do not mistake the man for a wolf hugger.
The 65-year-old Boise resident is a practical man who said he relies on facts and science, not folklore or misinformation.
I have 25 years working with the wolf recovery effort and as much of that was anthropology, he said Tuesday by phone from Portland. I like to say we dont really have a wolf problem, we have a people problem, and that gets me into a lot of trouble. I try to stick to fact and science. Because of that, there are organizations that shun me.
Niemeyer is the author of Wolfer, his memoir of his life as a wildlife biologist, government trapper and original member of the team that trapped Canadian wolves and relocated them to the western United States in 1995. He was scheduled by Oregon Wild, a conservation group interested in wolf reintroduction, to speak Tuesday in Eugene and Wednesday in Portland. The two dont always see eye to eye on policy issues, said Oregon Wild conservation director Steve Pedery.
The unique thing is he doesnt really romanticize these animals at all, Pedery said. He sees wolves as wolves, not as symbols of anything.
Correcting misinformation about wolves is part of Niemeyers life. The work keeps him busy.
Few topics rile anti-wolf audiences more than livestock losses due to wolf attacks, or depredations. Wolves since they reappeared in Oregon around 2009 have killed at least 57 livestock animals, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
That number may seem high, but in context is statistically insignificant, said Niemeyer, who during a stretch of his career investigated wolf depredations across Idaho, Montana and Wyoming for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Sit down and do the math, he said.
Figure about 860,000 sheep and around 6 million beef cows populate those three states. Over 25 years, wolves accounted for an average 70 cattle and 130 sheep each year. That amounts to very small numbers of livestock lost to wolves, particulary measured against losses to disease and other predators, such as cougars and bears.
Ranchers counter that wolves kill many more animals than the state or federal governments will confirm. Criteria set by government agencies make wolf-kill determinations a tough bar to reach. Wolves often destroy the evidence of their predation, or the livestock simply disappears. Ranchers also say the mere presence of wolves causes changes in herd behavior that results in weight loss and decreased market value.
Niemeyer has heard most of the arguments against wolf reintroduction in the West. Opponents claim the Canadian gray wolves caught by Niemeyer and his team or that come down on their own into Idaho, for example, are not the same species of wolf that populated the West until it was largely eradicated by the early 20th century.
Genetically, its the same species, Niemeyer said. Initially, the first effort was to tell everyone that wolves, the wolves from Canada are bigger, meaner and more vicious. They run in packs, kill for sport, all of these particular kinds of comments, he said. These wolves are essentially no different than the wolves that lived here.
The gray wolf presents no greater danger of passing on tapeworm than the family dog, he said, countering another belief in anti-wolf circles. In the last 100 years, wolves have killed two people, one in Canada and one in Alaska. Bear and mountain lions maul or kill many more humans in just one year. It s illogical to spend my time worrying about wolves attacking me in the woods when there s no history of it, Niemeyer said.
One who learned from Niemeyer, Russ Morgan, heads up the wolf management program for the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department. He and department wildlife biologist Roblyn Brown, who also works in wolf management, worked with Niemeyer to track a pair of Baker County wolves responsible for killing sheep in 2009. The Keating pair were eventually killed.
I think they re doing an outstanding job, Niemeyer said. Right now I have all the confidence in the world in ODFW. The problem you have is, just like Idaho and Montana, ... you can have the best desire to do it the correct way, and whatever those management decisions are, they re under the scrutiny of government and the appointed fish and game committee. It goes political.
Political means that vested interests, whether pro- or anti-wolf, often dictate policy decisions outside any basis in science, he said. Outside of Oregon, the livestock and hunting quarters are most influential, he said. Oregon, where the rural eastern part of the state often complains its interests are subsumed to those of the more populous western side, may present a different dynamic, he agreed.
Morgan said he learned capture techniques from Niemeyer, techniques that Niemeyer in some cases developed himself. Morgan described Niemeyer, whose experience with wolves brought him to work for the U.S. Agriculture Department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, as a renowned expert on the subject of tracking and capturing wolves. Niemeyer actually caught and collared a female wolf in Idaho that eventually moved to Oregon and became the alpha female of the Imnaha pack in Wallowa County, infamous for its record of livestock kills.
One of the things that Carter has preached is the ability to catch a wolf is to be in the right area, to learn how a wolf uses the landscape before even attempting its capture, Morgan said.
He dismisses the suggestion that Niemeyers attitudes towards wolf management policy influence his own. My association with Carter is really about the technical aspects of wolf management, he said. I believe that his expertise with wolves right now is really unparalleled.
Ask Niemeyer where he stands on wolves and the answer is direct. He makes no apologies for wolves, knows they must be managed, which means killing them when necessary. He has killed some himself. But the animals are here to stay, he said.
Wolves have every benefit and right to be on the landscape again, he said. We need to accept that they belong on the landscape.