Yellowstone National Park is a magical place. In 1997, I had the pleasure of working in the park. One summer weekend I took a backcountry hiking trip with three friends on the Montana border. The hike was long and arduous and my pack was heavy due to my decision to bring along a bottle of gin and various citrus fruits for making some sort of ridiculous cocktail (beer was too heavy). By the time we reached our site, ten miles into the backcountry, I was exhausted. I built a fire, shared my two cans of chunky soup and then washed out the cans to use them as mixing containers for my cocktails. No one really wanted the drinks but me so I did as any good Arkansan would and drank most of them.
Needless to say, I was somewhat intoxicated by bedtime. I tucked myself in and dozed off into dreamland. As I can best recall, I woke up around 3 a.m. and had to go to water the lawn. I stopped by a little creek about one hundred feet from the tent to do my business and stared into the night sky. To my amazement, I saw a large wolf staring at me across the ridge in front of me and I froze! Even in my intoxicated state, I knew this was a moment unlike any other. It was as if the wolf was telling me that I was in his territory and I should respect it. He eventually turned and walked away, but it made a lasting impression on me.
Many of you may already know that on December 28th, 2011, the first wolf in California since 1924 was spotted in Siskiyou County. He came over from Oregon and was originally part of a pack from Idaho. Well, this is fabulous news for me because I love wolves. The health of wolves is so symbolic of the overall health of the ecosystems they inhabit and the health of our planet as a whole. What do I mean by this…?
The Importance of Wolves
Wolves are at the top of their food chain. If they disappear, their prey species can increase rapidly causing ecological imbalances such as erosion due to overgrazing of riparian areas by prey species like deer and elk. There must be a balance between the number of wolves and their prey species. Like most large predators, wolves need a lot of space to roam and hunt. One estimate suggests from 50-100 square miles for one pack of wolves and some even reach 1,000 square miles!
Early Americans hunted wolves to near extinction and some ranchers have done their best to get rid of them because of the threat they pose to their livestock. However, I ask the reader to consider: who was here first, the people or wolves? The loss of a few chickens or sheep pales in comparison to the loss of an entire species that holds together an ecosystem and running wolves to exhaustion from helicopters is about the weakest form of human activity I can think of.
Saving wolves is symbolic of our level of commitment to environmental health because we must be willing to ask ourselves: are we any more important than any other species? And how can we meet our own needs and allow other species to exist in harmony with us? We are all connected.
Your Call to ACTION
So this all sounds touching and inspiring, but what can YOU do about it??? One thing that everyone can do is know their food source. If you buy meat from a local rancher, you can get information about them and their relationship with wildlife on the farm. What are their grazing practices? Are they wolf haters? Eatwild is a great resource for this!!!
There are many organizations that work to preserve habitat for wolves. I can personally vouch for The Nature Conservancy because I have worked with them in many parts of the U.S. They buy land and manage it, negotiate with other landowners to restore habitat and use field science to mimic natural processes. Wolf Haven also does great work with wolves. Even a small donation to these organizations, in time or money, can make a difference.
Ultimately, I hope that everyone can have an experience like I did with the wolf in Yellowstone (hopefully, a bit more sober than I was). No matter who we are or where we come from, there is a part of us that wants to connect with the wilderness. After all, it gave us life…