“Living with Carnivores: Boneyards, Bears and Wolves” is a documentary film about living with large carnivores. The story begins a decade ago in western Montana’s Blackfoot River Valley and explores how a rural agricultural community responded to the resurgence of grizzly bears and wolves. The film explores the thoughtful “can do” approach of Montana ranchers who realized that the age old practice of dumping dead livestock onto “boneyards” was destined to spell trouble by attracting grizzly bears and wolves onto ranches resulting in poor outcomes for wildlife and ranchers.
At its core, this film attempts to illustrate that it is possible to transcend ideological divides and to solve serious problems in a polarized world.
Produced by Alpenglow Press Productions and Seth Wilson. Filmed and edited by Jason D.B. Kauffman, Alpenglow Press Productions. Narration by Craig Johnson
The Blackfoot Challenge
In the early 2000’s, ranchers and other partners of the Blackfoot Challenge (a community based conservation effort in Montana’s Blackfoot River watershed) developed a deadstock removal program. “Living with Large Carnivores: Boneyards, Bears and Wolves” is a newly released film that shares the journey of the folks of the Blackfoot Challenge as they work to find solutions for reducing conflict with carnivores on the agricultural landscape. While the film demonstrates the work being done in one area of Montana, it also proposes the idea that by working together, from a grassroots level, we can learn to reduce the risk of living with large carnivores on our farms and ranches. The Blackfoot Challenge has provided a model for carnivore conflict reduction that can successfully be implemented in any part of the world.
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.
Changing the perceptions of people who have negative views of wolves begins with dialogue. If we want to change this negative to a positive perception we must open the dialogue, and engage, ask questions, and plant seeds – seeds of compassion that will grow into new perceptions of valuing the role wolves play in balancing the ecosystem.
“You only have one way to convince others – listen to them.” – George Washington
Trying to change negative perceptions by demeaning, insulting, and shouting down the other side won’t get us anywhere, and will most likely only harden their resolve. Think of how we feel when an anti-wolf voice makes derogatory comments about wolves or wolf advocates – it just makes us angrier and widens the divide.
“The most powerful way to win an argument is by asking questions. It can make people see the flaws in their logic.” -Unknown
It can be extremely difficult not to scream angrily back when we see injustices to those animals we fight so hard to protect. I travel to Yellowstone to watch wolves and follow their lives on a daily basis. I have come to know these wolves on a personal level – their different personalities, their families, their successes and hardships. When one of them is killed, especially by the hand of man, it breaks my heart.
When I learned of the poaching of the 12-year-old Canyon pack alpha female earlier this year, my gut reaction was to hurl insults at the anti-wolf crowd. I was angry and hurt, and I wanted to hurt back. In my heart, I knew this wouldn’t help the wolves at all; in fact, in the long run, it might be more detrimental. I also realized that this would be going against the basic philosophy of Compassionate Conservation – “first do no harm”. If I truly believe that, it also means showing compassion towards those with whom I wholeheartedly disagree by raising a voice in compassion for all beings.
“You cannot force someone to comprehend a message that they are not ready to receive. Still, you must never underestimate the power of planting a seed.” – Unknown
If we want to see the end of the persecution and hatred of wolves, we must sow the seeds of compassion and knowledge; nurturing the seeds of compassionate conservation will lead to valuing the wolf as part of the natural world.