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Saturday, January 30, 2016

In the Valley of Wolves

I recently won a book from Living with Wolves, an Idaho-based wolf advocacy group.

To enter the contest, I had to state what draws me to the wolf. My response: "Wolves speak to my soul. Nothing makes me happier than seeing them in the wild and listening to their howls." My entry was one of five chosen to receive a signed copy of Howl: Of Woman and Wolf by Susan Imhoff Bird. 

I almost never win anything, so this was a great surprise, particularly given my fascination with wolves. I recently finished reading Doug Smith's Decade of the Wolf, which is a behind-the-scenes look at the politics, science and logistics that went into the decision to release 31 gray wolves from Canada into Yellowstone National Park in 1995 and 1996. These wolves were the first to inhabit the park since the wolf population was exterminated by the park service in the 1920s. Those original 31 animals have given rise to a current population of some 100 wolves living in 11 packs as of December 2014. 

Now I am reading In the Temple of Wolves: A Winter's Immersion into Wild Yellowstone by Rick Lamplugh. His book is a series of essays about his observations of his winters spent volunteering with the Yellowstone Foundation's Wolf Watch program. He has some wonderful insights into the balance of nature and the interaction between species. This book is an informative yet very personal view of Yellowstone's Lamar Valley.

Yellowstone's wolves are a major tourist attraction, boosting the area's economy with dollars spent on lodging, guides, meals, gasoline, souvenirs and other things. One study estimates that people visiting Yellowstone to see wolves pump some $35 million/year into the economies of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. I love Yellowstone, especially the bison and wolves. I love the variety of geysers, hot springs, mud pots and other thermal features. But the reason I keep going back is the wolves. 

It is such a thrill to see the wolves up close, although that rarely happens. More typically, I get to see them through a high-powered spotting scope. Although I dream of getting close enough to capture a really great photo with my long (400 mm) lens, that hasn't happened yet. But I am forever hopeful. 

I will be going back to Yellowstone later this year, after the crowds have gone. I have even hired a guide/photographer for a private wildlife and photography tour for two days. There is something so magical about Yellowstone and its 2.2 million acres of wildness. Where else can a visitor hope to see grizzly bears and wolves, herds of bison, moose, big horn sheep, pronghorn, mountain goats and bald eagles, in addition to more than 10,000 hydrothermal features such as geysers, mud pots, hot springs and steam vents?

I would love to live close enough to Yellowstone to visit on a regular basis, but the winters there are far too harsh for me. And I avoid the park's masses of visitors during the summer months. But my once or twice yearly visits during the spring, fall or winter are the highlights of my year. Since I can't live there, I guess I will have to be content with reading about these fascinating animals and visiting as often as possible.