So yes, I did start my day out looking for the Lamar Canyon pack. Several other wolf watchers were also, and everyone was coming up empty. It wasn’t surprising they weren’t around, as something spooked them off the carcass yesterday, and they may not have wanted to go back.
Any day I am in Yellowstone is a good day, and some days are just incredible. Today was one of those incredible days!
Audio only – 926F howing for Little T
Today’s drive into the park was certainly less harrowing than yesterday’s white knuckler – no cars off the road or stuck sideways on drifted over S-curve inclines.
Snow, blowing snow, and poor visibility was the name of the game today – especially this morning. Even though it made wildlife viewing challenging at best, everywhere you turn, Yellowstone is a winter wonderland picture postcard view right now.
Fifty weeks since my last trip to Yellowstone – way too long! The drive into the Park from Gardiner had low clouds and on and off snow showers – not ideal wolf and wildlife viewing conditions but temperatures were in the 20s and the wind was pretty calm, and I was back in Yellowstone!
Find the 2 wolves in this photo – yes there really are 2 wolves – 1 gray, 1 black – now you can understand why I often need help with my spotting scope!
With so much depressing news about wolves these last few weeks – from the relentless anti-wolf legislation in Congress, to the dreadful Montana and Wyoming wolf hunts – I so desperately need some positive wolf thoughts running through my head right now. So, I take myself back to the first time I ever saw a wolf in the wild.
Believe it or not, for something that had such an emotional effect on me, I cannot for the life of me remember the exact place or year – I think it might have been in 2004 and possibly near Cache Creek. I was on a week-long backpacking trip in the northern portion of Yellowstone. On my backpacking trips I have always gone with a guide so I can just enjoy being in the moment and soak up the grandeur of all the sights and sounds around me. That being said, my topographic map-reading and triangulation skills are pretty much non-existent.
We had good weather for most of the trip, and our group of about 8 people was a fun one. We saw numerous birds, eagles, elk, coyotes, a cinnamon black bear, and buffalo, but as always, on any backpacking trips I had taken in Yellowstone, no wolves – not even a howl. What I would give to hear or see a wild wolf, but alas, I thought this trip would be like all the others – devoid of wolves.
“The gaze of the wolf reaches into our soul.” ~Barry Lopez
Our last morning in the back country started with coffee and a breakfast of instant oatmeal, granola, and any food that was left over from the week – get rid of as much pack weight as possible before the day’s hike. Everyone was a bit introspective, trying to hang onto the tranquility of the wilderness, knowing that all too soon the worries of the real world would come crashing back. We were also faced with our longest trek of the trip – a 10+-mile hike over a mountain pass to get back to the trailhead.
Most of us lingered over a last cup of coffee, reluctant to finish packing up our tents and gear. Suddenly, our guide, Howie, pointed to the hiking trail about 100 yards away. Everyone’s head spun in that direction, and there they were – six wolves! They were walking single file along the same trail we had just hiked the day before. One wolf was collared, and the last wolf in line was limping and trailing behind the others. The wolf that was second to last in line would often wait for the limping wolf to catch up.
I remember thinking how much longer their legs seemed to be than a dog’s legs – tall and lanky, but just so beautiful – the epitome of true wilderness. No one had a camera at hand, and we passed a couple of pairs of binoculars among ourselves to watch them. My heart was pounding so hard at the thrill and excitement of finally seeing a wolf in the wild, that I could barely hold the binoculars still.
“Any glimpse into the life of an animal quickens our own and makes it so much the larger and better in every way.” ~John Muir
They didn’t hurry down the trail, even knowing full well we were there. I suspect they sensed that we were not a threat to them. When the wolves went out of sight, everyone was jumping up and down and high-fiving each other at our good fortune. The chances of seeing wolves on a backpacking trip are slim. Although they were in our view for only a couple of minutes, those fleeting moments are something I will treasure forever.
I do not know which wolf pack we saw, and I am not sure if our guide ever found out either. I do know that the sight of those wolves stirred something deep in my soul – something that keeps me yearning to see them again.
I feel a strong obligation to fight for wolves – perhaps the most wrongfully persecuted animal in the world. I will fight so others have the chance to experience that same heart-stopping thrill of seeing a wolf in the wild. I will fight so that people will see that we can coexist with wolves. I will fight so that wolves can live in peace and not be subject to the heartless cruelty of humans.
Anger, disgust, fear – those are the emotions running through me right now.
The 6-month-long wolf hunting season in Montana begins today, September 15th and runs through March 15th – six long and stress-filled months. Montana has mapped the state into 18 Wolf Management Units (WMUs) which it opens to wolf hunting. Of these 18 WMUs, only 3 have quotas. The remaining 15 have no limits on how many wolves are killed.
What makes the Montana scheduled wolf hunt all that much worse is that many of the WMUs immediately surround Yellowstone, Teton, and Glacier National Parks, where wolves are protected, and which also serve as corridors for wolves dispersing into or out of these parks. The Yellowstone wolves, especially, are more used to and tolerant of human presence. If these wolves happen to take one step over the invisible park boundary, they can be shot and killed by trophy “hunters”. How “sporting” is it to sit with a loaded rifle just outside of a National Park waiting for a wolf to step over a human-drawn border of which the wolf has no knowledge?
How lonely is the night without the howl of a wolf. ~Unknown
I realize that Yellowstone wolves are no more or less important than any other wolves, but the Yellowstone wolves are the wolves I have come to know – I know their stories. I have watched them in person, I have photographed them, I read about their lives on a daily basis. I care deeply about these wolves because I know them. Each day between now and March 15th I dread that I will read that one of the Yellowstone wolves that I have come to know has fallen victim to the wolf hunt.
Yellowstone wolves are in even greater peril, as the first wolf hunting season since 2013 begins in Wyoming on October 1st and runs through December 31st. Wyoming has designated 12 wolf hunting units surrounding Yellowstone National Park where up to 44 wolves can be shot and killed. In the remainder of the state, wolves are considered predatory animals and can be shot and killed 24/7, 365 days a year.
When I was twelve, I went hunting with my father and we shot a bird. He was laying there and something struck me. Why do we call this fun to kill this creature [who] was as happy as I was when I woke up this morning. ~Marv Levy
It seems that wolves everywhere are under attack. In my home state of Wisconsin, wolves are being used as political pawns and may soon be hunted like Montana’s and Wyoming’s wolves. What’s worse, is that in Wisconsin it is legal to use dogs when hunting wolves – pitting dogs against wolves – it doesn’t get much lower than that.
With the ever-growing movement of protecting and preserving wolves and wildlife, it appears our politicians and state wildlife agencies are doing just the opposite and keeping the recovery and future of wolves in peril.