The Wolves of Yellowstone

“It seems ironic that just as we’ve started to get a better handle on the complex factors driving the relationships of a given habitat… those systems themselves are increasingly at risk of unraveling. In that sense, maybe the gift of the WOLF (my emphasis) to Yellowstone, and to the world, isn’t simply its beauty…Its gift comes instead from what it has to teach us about all the life with which it coexists” Foreword xiii, Gary Ferguson. Douglas W. Smith & Gary Ferguson, Decade of the Wolf, Lyons Press: Guilford, Con. 2012

Rich memories still appear bright and powerful in my mind after having returned from a one-of-a-kind trip into Wolf territory. If we want to understand our dogs, perhaps we need to start at the beginning – with the wolf. This I thought as I orchestrated a little birthday present for myself, accompanied by John and two of my sibs. The four of us, armed with warm clothing and the promise of witnessing wild animals, arrived in Montana with Yellowstone National Park as our final destination.

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Once in the park, I tried imagining what my reaction might be the first time I actually witnessed these incredible creatures in the wild. Would tears of awe prevent me from clearly seeing through the long distance scope? Would I feel a knot in my stomach and or chills up and down my spine? Would I (and my partners in adventure) have such good luck of sighting them? No promises where made. Just hope. Lots of hope.

Sure, I have seen wolves before, up close and personal as part of an educational program, but this was different. These are wolves in nature. Uncompromised, wild and undisturbed by our inquisitive eyes.

Our visit to Yellowstone included a tour of 3 activity-packed days where a naturalist would not only share her knowledge- we got the best naturalist: Inspired, profound, gentle and knowledgeable that one could ask for who was privy to the exact location for (almost) full-proof sightings of many species of wilds. Her passion for this land that she now calls home was contagious. We were driven around in the wee & cold hrs. of the morning in hopes of partaking in the somewhat accessible and private lives of wolves.

First impressions: They are BIGGER than I thought. Far away, frolicking with their young and they still held their presence through the scope. No, I did not tear up or feel a pang in my stomach, but instead… a warm sensation coupled with utter respect and awe: w-i-l-d gray w-o-l-v-e-s, unencumbered by our presence.

My awe towards wolves is not only rooted in the fact that they are the closest relative to our dogs, but also because their survival is so interrelated with so many of human narratives.

These narratives run the gamut from narratives of survival as in the case of ranchers who claim that their livestock is undermined by the close proximity of wolves, fear-based narratives that have pegged wolves as evil creatures, to narrative of co-existence and responsibility taken to heart by wildlife biologist and other scientists as well as animal advocates the world over.

The tale continues, but for now, their survival is a testament to many a romantic, to scientists and countless of brave and zealous individuals who understood that eradicating wolves from Yellowstone in the first place was a callous miscalculation of the significance of their presence for an ecosystem to thrive.

Decades after the conflict-laden (really- just read some of the accounts of what it took to get these guys back into the park… ouch!) it appears that they have managed to claim Yellowstone as their home once again.

And, from my perspective, what we must do now is to respect their wild existence as we vow to watch in awe from afar; without imposing on their natural behaviors. Furthermore, I urge you to visit Yellowstone and participate in one of the many outstanding learning programs being offered. For more information contact: www.yellowstoneassociation.org. I doubt you will regret it.