AMERICAN WOLF : a true story of survival and obsession in the West

Wolves arrived in Yellowstone National Park via truck on January 12, 1995.
NPS photo

AMERICAN WOLF :
a true story of survival and obsession in the West

NATE BLAKESLEE

“When the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, there were perhaps as many as two million wolves on the continent. Most of the early colonial governments, eager to make their settlements safe for livestock, paid bounties for wolf hides. . .

By the 1920s, the wolf had been all but eliminated from the continental United States except for a small population in northern Minnesota and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Why did our ancestors feel they had to root out every last wolf, and why were hunters still so eager to shoot them in the few places they remained? “
Nate Blakeslee, American Wolf

CROWN PUB | 17 Oct 2017
322 pages
NONFICTION : OUTDOORS AND NATURE
ARC from NETGALLEY

★★★★★

Click for National Geographic Interview with Nate Blakesley

BACKGROUND INFO

Around 1845, the migration of religiously driven pioneers believing in Manifest Destiny rapidly sped across America ripping apart the lives of native human populations and destroying predatory wildlife habitats.  As homesteads and ranches filled the land, the natural range and sources of food for the large predators shrank leading to incursions in farm fields and leased grazing areas. Inevitably the two worlds clashed head-on and the losers were the predatory animals -specifically gray wolves (Canis lupus).  By 1929, the massive efforts to eradicate gray wolves was achieved.

But there were consequences and conflicts as a result of this extermination.  Not everyone agreed that nature should be so radically altered. Quoting Sir Isaac Newton  – for every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction. 

Advocates for preserving portions of the decreasing wilderness and restoring the balance of the natural world prevailed and on March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant and Congress created the world’s first national park in what was then the Territories of Montana and Wyoming – Yellowstone National Park. The Yellowstone Act provided, under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, protection for the wonders such as its geysers and hot springs but also stated:

[The Secretary of the Interior] shall provide against the wanton destruction of the fish and game found within said park, and against their capture or destruction . . . . .

In time, researchers discovered the role that large predators play in a healthy ecosystem. In 1995, after years of planning, 31 wolves from Canada were released in the Yellowstone National Park sparking a new battle between true believers on both sides of the wolf issue.

REVIEW

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? Thanks to Disney and the Three Little Pigs, I can’t get that song out of my head. How about sayings like “wolf in sheep’s clothing” or he’s a ‘lone wolf”? The wolf as predator has been getting a bad rap for thousands of years. After reading, American Wolf, I am not sure who was/is the greater predator these days – the 4-legged or the 2-legged kind.

Flip the cover and begin. Hear the wind whistle though the trees and over mountain tops. Watch and feel the snow as it falls in white sheets. Note that the cold is so intense that the myriad wolf watchers standing in long lines on the roadsides of the park appear frozen in freeze-frames images. Suddenly a wild-eyed elk bursts out of the trees trailed by a blur of snarling fur and the crowd comes alive.

O-6

I’ll set the stage here. The book follows one crowd popular alpha female (including her various mates and off-spring) famously known around the world as O-6 from birth through her death. It will be impossible not to admire and respect her strengths, loyalty, and prowess as a mother and leader of the pack. O-6, having just given birth to her third litter, was shot by a poacher when she trespassed just beyond the Yellowstone boundary. The identity of the shooter remains a secret and is identified in the book by a fictional name. His story is played against O-6’s throughout the book thus providing the negative views of the wolf re-introduction project.

O-6’s death set off a world-wide firestorm, and raised public awareness to the plight of the Gray Wolves. I cried when she died. Yup. If you don’t cry when she dies, you will when you read how her mate reacts.

Ranger Rick McIntyre

Digging in more specifically, let’s take a seat beside Ranger Rick McIntyre as he begins his day peering through his spotting scope. He spots a new den site for a local pack and he leans in to see the new pups as they tumble outside for the first time. We will experience his compulsive need to see his wolves every day. What we see often thrills us, sometimes makes us turn our heads away, and sometimes leaves us haunted. It is no wonder that McIntyre has no other social life; he is unable to leave the park. This is wildlife interacting with the natural world oblivious to cell phones, sit-coms and stock market prices.

Yellowstone, this designated wilderness, the place where a wolf can be a wolf. Where a beaver can make slap happy sounds on ponds. Where ravens elbow around grizzlies for foraged meat. Yellowstone, where lucky visitors shoot only pictures. But this safe harbor exists solely within the unseen boundaries of the park. Trails that lead back thousands of years transect the park leading wildlife through unprotected terrain; into rifle scopes not viewing scopes.

We do leave the park occasionally and head to town to tip a brew with the locals and hear their side of the story. A story often lost in the shuffle about ecosystems and states’ rights – just families and small businesses trying to make a life in an inhospitable environment. We find that the wilderness sanctuary isn’t an island. Its edges rub up against civilization and the two are always at war. Guided elk hunts, ranchers and homesteaders sit on one side of the see-saw with wolf advocates, environmentalists, and biologists on the other. The battle for life and death rages through these pages; some as God intended and others at the hands of man for sport, food, or revenge.

This book is a wonderful read that doesn’t reach an amiable conclusion. The battle between sides continues to this day.

Blakeslee has painstakingly researched this topic and will provide the reader with a balanced view of the see-saw riders. The reader’s bias will have them sitting on their favorite side of the see-saw but hopefully with a better understanding for the opposition.

Highly recommended for nature lovers and wilderness seekers.

RIP O-6.

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