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Welcoming Wolves Home

Oregon Wolf Puppies In log pc USFWSJourney's pups checking out their beautiful home in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in southern Oregon. photo credit: USFWS

Twenty-five years ago, when WildEarth Guardians was founded to protect the forests of New Mexico, I lived in a cabin with my mom and little sister in the forests of southern Oregon. I remember listening to the coyotes sing to each other at night. To this day, friends are surprised when I sleep through coyote song on camping trips: to me it is a familiar lullaby, not a foreign sound.

My mama wanted her daughters to be both tough and gentle. She taught us to respect the power of nature and care for wild things. It was not uncommon for our family to be nursing a wounded wild animal or carefully evicting one from our cabin. We sourced our water from a spring, heated the cabin with a wood stove, and cut a deal with the deer to leave the strawberry plants in the garden be until they’d stopped fruiting.

Wildlife played a significant role in shaping me. I have vivid memories of the first time I saw a lynx rising silently from the grass, its tufted ears and coloration revealing it was indeed the most elusive of cats. Black bears, bobcats and cougars were rare, but present. My high school mascot was the grizzly, but the great bears themselves were long since gone. At the time, I had no idea that perhaps the most glaring absence from the landscape, though, was the gray wolf. I would be in my thirties before I had the profound experience of seeing a wolf in the wild; 1,000 miles from my childhood home.

I found my calling early. My first experience of activism came at 12, when I testified against a proposed gravel mine on a hillside near my home. The mining permit was denied. Not long after that I read about Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s career as an environmental attorney. What a concept: I could be a lawyer for the Earth. My seventh grade goal statement says “I’ll be an environmental lawyer when I grow up,” and that I am. When I visit home and pass that hillside, I give thanks first that it remains a mountain and not a mine, and second for how it shaped me.

In 1994 and 1995, when I was entering high school, the federal government reintroduced wolves to Yellowstone National Park and the Frank Church Wilderness in Idaho. It was a conservation project of unprecedented scale and controversy. Indeed, it was an extraordinary acknowledgement that eradicating wolves from the landscape decades earlier was a grave mistake. The reintroduction was grounded in the recognition that without wolves, our country's first national park and America’s greatest idea, would never be truly whole again.

While wolves have returned to Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, the Great Lakes region and eastern Oregon and Washington, they remain absent from 95% of their historic range. As apex carnivores, wolves are a key component of healthy, thriving ecosystems. They should not be relegated to a few national parks. As the director of Guardians’ Wildlife Program I am working to return the wolf and restore the balance.

At Guardians, I do the work that resonates with me most deeply: protecting and restoring imperiled wildlife and plants and their habitats. Wildlife need clean, free flowing rivers, protected public lands and a healthy, stable climate. As a Force for Nature, Guardians works to safeguard these key components of our natural world.

To my great delight, earlier this year wolves returned to my childhood home. OR-7, or Journey, the famed wandering wolf, finally found a mate, and they are now raising a litter in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in the county where I grew up. The first wolf family in southern Oregon in nearly 90 years, however, will be in grave danger, if Endangered Species Act protections are stripped from gray wolves.

We will continue to work to ensure protections for wolves and other imperiled wildlife through litigation, advocacy, outreach and education for the next 25 years—and beyond. I expect to see wolves return to my adopted home of Colorado in my lifetime as well. I still feel most alive in wild places, in the company of wildlife. I will work to ensure mine is not the last generation to experience that profound sense of connection and place.

For the wild,

Bethany Cotton signature

Bethany Cotton staff 2013

Bethany Cotton
Wildlife Program Director
WildEarth Guardians

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