Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin Tracker’s Journal, Story of “White Eyes” Alpha Female #447

In loving memory of “White Eyes” who died in 2009 after being hit by a vehicle. She leaves a lasting legacy as one of the Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin.

This is my story of “White Eyes” a Wisconsin grey wolf I became familiar with while tracking wolves as a volunteer in the year 2000. I first caught sight of her as she crossed the road in front of me. She stopped in the ditch, stared straight at me and that’s when I caught a glimpse of those amber-green eyes and they were all framed in white fur. So I named her White Eyes, and thus began the relationship between wolf tracker and wolf.

As a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources volunteer wolf tracker, I was assigned a tracking block in the year 2000 that had a new alpha female in the territory. I set out exploring this new territory. I spent summers scouting the wolf family’s home range, and winters surveying thier tracks.

Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin was founded in 2012 to draw attention to the plight of wolves in Wisconsin. Wolves were being hunted with hound dogs, trapped and killed shortly after being taken off the endangered species list 2012.

Oil Pastel drawing of White Eyes by Rachel Tilseth

In loving memory of “White Eyes” who died in 2009 after being hit by a vehicle. She leaves a lasting legacy as one of the Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin. Drawing of White Eyes by Rachel Tilseth

Part of monitoring wolves is conducting wolf howl surveys during summer and fall seasons.

  
Photograph of wolf range in Douglas county Wisconsin by Rachel Tilseth 

While conducting wolf howl surveys, I was favored with a howl from the entire wolf family, and on one evening was startled by a lone wolf howling right next to me. I was even privileged to see two wolf silhouettes in the moonlight as they howled back to me.

White Eyes’s pack only had 5 family members.

This meant that five wolves was the maximum number of wolves for this 24 square mile range. This wolf pack of 5 members couldn’t afford to leave a yearling to babysit the pups. Every adult was needed to hunt and the pups were to young to join them on a hunt. The puppies were usually stashed in a brushy area for safe keeping while the pack was off hunting.

On a warm July summer night in 2002 I was about to find out that a wolf’s trust could be broken.

I was on a howl survey that night when White Eyes stashed her two pups, then headed off to hunt.

That night on my first howl, White Eyes’ two pups responded back to me to my surprise. 

“How adorable they are” I thought to myself. One pup was light and the other was dark in color. One wolf pup was obviously an alpha, as was demonstrated with his or her aggressive behavior. 

I dared not linger, because that could bring danger to the pups. However, I did name them “Salt and Pepper.” And I left the area that night. 

Something changed that following year of 2003. The wolves didn’t howl back to me. 

I wasn’t able to get a peep out of “White Eyes” or any of her pack members. I was getting worried that maybe something happened to them.

Finally one night on a howl survey,  I said to my son Jacob, “you try a howl.” he did and was able to get several of White Eyes’s family to respond back to his howl. 

What did that tell me about White eyes? It told me , that a wolf’s trust could be broken.

I spent 2 years building a relationship with White Eyes, and in one summer lost her trust all because I got too close to her pups. All of this made me realize, that I was nothing more than a tolerated human observer; not a trusted wolf babysitter.

It took another year before the relationship was back, and I was allowed to hear the family howls again. I was able to hear them howl again, just before sunset, and while they were hunting at midnight. I learned to steer clear of White Eyes’s pups.

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Rachel Tilseth

Rachel Tilseth iIn 2011 I went from tracking the wolf to advocating for them and found myself within an advocacy network that went against my values. I am tenacious by nature, and passionate about the grey wolves I got to know through tracking them. But I found myself within a system of wolf-advocacy that wasnt for me. I am am artist and writer first and foremost. Tilseth has been a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Volunteer Winter Wolf Tracker since the year 2000. Tilseth received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Art Education in 1992 from UW-Stout, graduating with cum laude honors.

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