2017-12-07 / Opinions

Book Review

Wolf Nation
Reviewed by

“The story of wild wolves in America is a chronicle of war and love, a history of hatred and redemption.” Brenda Peterson is fiercely devoted to this story. Her father worked for the U.S. Forest Service, and she grew up in a cabin in the Sierra Nevada. She has known and appreciated hunters and trappers. Her disdain is for those who kill to be killing and who fail to understand the world of the wild wolf.

She says that, along with native people, wolves were perceived as an impediment to western expansion. “Wolves are certainly self-willed and do not obey our commands, even if we raise them by hand.” Accustomed to domestic dogs, we can be intolerant of the wolf’s independence. However, Peterson presents a convincing argument that self-regulating predators help to balance the ecosystem.

She tells the sad story of Ernest Thompson Seton’s experience with the majestic wolf Lobo, who eluded hunters until Seton managed to kill his mate Blanca. They used her body to entice Lobo into a wolf trap. The episode changed Seton, and he went on to become a wolf champion and famous writer in the 1890s.

Unfortunately, the public’s attitude toward the wolf has not changed much in the years since. Peterson has attended conferences, conducted interviews, and done extensive research into the history and current lives of wolves. Her most persuasive words reveal the details of the wolf families that she and others have studied.

Wolves play on an average of every thirty minutes. Their communication skills, like howling, are profound and practical. Wolves control their singing, transmitting intent and meaning. Wolves live in families and are loyal to each other.

The story of the Yellowstone wolves is widely known now and has probably convinced many of us that we do not need or want to exterminate wild wolves. Fourteen wolves, a mixture of adults and pups, were captured in Canada, radio collared and brought to Yellowstone Park. It became the “greatest conservation success story in America.” The ecology in the park was gradually improved; they thinned the over-populated deer and elk, stopping the destruction they were causing to river banks and meadows.

The practice of radio-collaring wolves for research has had unfortunate results, however, as some hunters have tracked them and used helicopters to keep them moving until exhaustion makes them easy prey for the unscrupulous. The most poignant sections of the book tell us of the loss of whole families of wolves who have fallen to this kind of treatment.

Ranchers and cattlemen use public lands for grazing and resent the wolf’s presence. “The livestock industry has deep roots and a lot of power.” The story of re-introducing wolves into the American landscape is not over. Wolf Nation is available at the Mary Willis Library.

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