It seems that wolves are returning home to Oregon.

wolf map thumbnailA little more than a decade ago, Oregon was wolf-less, along with the rest of the American West, a legacy of government-sanctioned poisoning, trapping, and shooting to make the land safe for cows and sheep. [Here’s a cool animated map depicting our shrunken wolf range.] But then in the mid-1990s federal biologists reintroduced a few dozen wolves back into their native habitat of Yellowstone National Park and the wilderness of central Idaho. And the wolf population grew faster and healthier than anyone had been expecting.

Barely 11 years later, the US Rockies are home to at least 850 gray wolves, and that number is growing every year. So robust is the wolf population that there’s mounting evidence that wolves are now moving west—back into their former home in the rugged mountains and canyons of northeast Oregon.

The wolf success story is a bright spot in restoring endangered species. Unlike some other species, restoring wolf populations is comparatively cheap and easy. In fact, all they really need is to be left alone.

It’s not exactly rocket science (or salmon restoration, for that matter) to leave them alone and let them return to their former homes, as they appear to be doing in Oregon. Better yet, easy as it is, allowing wolves to recover in the west can yield outsize benefits to native ecosystems. So here’s to doing absolutely nothing—except maybe a little monitoring so that we know what’s up.

UPDATE 9/14/06:A new article in the Oregonian says it’s official. Biologists have identified at least one wolf hanging around the Wallowa Mountains. They’re hoping to fit it with a radio collar so that they can easily monitor its movements.