Sunday, January 4, 2009


One of the great joys of living in the wilderness is the sense that you live in a zoo without bars. Our home is regularly visited by moose, fox, all manner of small creatures and even bears. When you get outdoors here encounters with wildlife are not terribly uncommon for those folks who'll step outta the car and not even so uncommon for those who don't.

During our recent visit to Tennessee we visited a place called "Bays Mountain Park" that for whatever reason has a collection of animals living in pens outside of the nature center. And part of that collection included wolves.

I know that many among you consider wolves to be ravenous and marauding creatures that lurk in the dark to steal children and cattle and generally absorb the personage of the bogeyman. But in reality in most of the Lower 48 there simply are no wolves. In the Rockies, Yellowstone and a few other places you can have wild wolves but they're not terribly common and pretty well protected.

I've been privileged to be living among wolves in Alaska for some time and have come to have some different and strong opinions on these creatures and while my soapbox has been put in the closet after our last election (I won't bore you with aerial shooting topics) I have come to have a deep sense of respect for these animals.

I've had several close range encounters with wolves this year during my hunting and berry picking activities including a fantastic encounter where a small pack watched my family gather berries on the tundra from a small grove of trees a mere hundred yards away. They made no threatening behavior and struck me as rather curious and actually quite shy. Another encounter occurred during carribou season when I cut a set of fresh tracks on a snow machine. I watched in fascination as a large pack ran across a mountain face about half a mile away- the Alpha wolf stood and regarded us for quite some time.

These animals were different- living in a pen and totally habituated to people they weren't, well, for lack of a better expression wolves at all. They looked like wolves but certainly didn't act like wolves and it made me more than a little sad. Don't confuse my emotion with an extreme view because a fair chase hunt for wolves is about one of the best feats a hunter can hope for. If you can't stand the thought of a prime wolf pelt on a wall or parka ruff then you've not arrived at how the world really works. Neither can I stand a wolf in a cage or shot from a plane and if you can I wonder if you've a heart beating in your chest.

I must confess that I only felt that way for the wolves. The deer seemed as adapted to their confinement as cattle and a number of the animals were there being rehabilitated and such. But the confinement of wolves seemed so strange and so wrong that it made me have a deep sense of guilt for standing on the outside of the fence looking in.

I much prefer encountering these creatures in the wild, many mile from any fences.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

HI Hodgeman,

Great comments about wolves. Wolf restoration in the Northern Rockies (Id, Wy,Mt and now Oregon) has been an incredible success. The question now, that many urban enviros and wolf advocates are now having to deal with do we manage them? We're in quite a quandry down here because wolves are occassionally efficient predators of livestock ,which is a huge part of rural economies and culture.

The State of Montana has, what I feel, a responsible, balanced plan to conserve the species, which includes a limited yearly hunting season of wolves. Most of us middle of the road hunting-types and level headed conservationists support the plan...alas, it is being litigated by the usual suspects. Personally I think it was about the worst thing for the wolves themselves; more conflict and divisiveness in the human realm will likely produce more poaching and gratuitous killing of this important and beautiful predator.

Anyway, thanks for your insights. Take care.
For the wild,

David C