Wolf sightings have become increasingly more common here in Oregon. Several years ago, a local resident mistakenly shot a wolf in Logan Valley. At the beginning of August, the Blue Mountain Eagle reported camera confirmation of wolves at Keeney Meadows. Love them or hate them, they are here and probably here to stay. While I am not a fan of the wolf introduction program, I have come to accept it as the reality we live in.
It hit closer to home when a friend told me about a local family that had a close encounter with an aggressive wolf while huckleberry picking. The very next day the news broke that a wolf had ripped into a tent and attacked a family in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. With the aid of another camper, they were able to beat the wolf off.
While those two experiences are a little unnerving, I’m not trying to sell fear here. Over 4 million people visit Banff every year. There have been fewer than 50 reported wolf attacks in the U.S. in the last 100 years. You have a greater chance of choking to death on a gummy bear than being attacked by a wolf. That being said, taking some precautions when you head into the woods is never a bad idea.
Every day you jump into your rig and drive to work, the store, your mother-in-law’s — without even realizing you are gambling with your life. More people are killed or injured in vehicle accidents each year than all outdoor activities combined. Hopefully when you drive you take some precautions: Wear a seat belt, carry a spare, pay attention to signs and be more alert in busy traffic.
When you venture into the woods, you should take some precautions as well. I talked in this column a while ago about the basics like a knife and fire starter. I also think a firearm or bear spray is not a bad idea. As they say, “It’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.” Incidentally, Alaska Fish and Game studies show that bear spray is more effective than a firearm. Sorry, guys. And, just like when you are driving, you should be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to the signs around you. Are you berry picking? Bears like berries too. Pay attention to the tracks and animal sign you are seeing. Don’t become so focused on the task at hand that you fail to pay attention to what’s going on around you.
You need to exercise some caution when you are outdoors with your dogs. Wolves are very territorial and have wiped out entire packs of hounds. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife recommends that if you are traveling with dogs in potential wolf country to keep the dog close, have a bell on its collar and make some noise.
In Oregon, wolves are still protected. You can kill a wolf in protection of your own life, but you are not allowed to kill a wolf attacking your dog, cattle, sheep or pet gerbil. (East of highways 395, 78 and 95, the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan does allow ranchers to kill wolves on private property if caught in the act of biting, wounding or chasing livestock and working dogs, but that’s a narrow exception.)
Fear of injury or attack should never keep you from enjoying the outdoors. Overall, it is a very safe place to be as long as you give it the respect it deserves.
Tell us what you do to stay safe in the woods at firstname.lastname@example.org.