25 years of wolf encounters

Wolves have been back in Yellowstone for 25 years now. As a part of that milestone, I’d like to share a few memories.


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First encounter with a wild wolf

My first encounter with a wolf was before the Yellowstone reintroduced wolves. Mike and I took a vacation from Colorado to northern Montana when we considered relocating. On that drive, I read a book aloud, The Ninemile Wolves by Rick Bass.

We were on our way back south and pulling into Ennis, MT. Trotting along the road was a tall “dark dog” that we suddenly realized was not a dog at all. We stopped and could not believe our luck in spotting this wolf. When we stopped, the wolf stopped as well to see what we would do. The gaze from him/her was the most intense gaze I’ve ever experienced from an animal. They do look right to your soul. The book mentioned researchers were looking for confirmation that wolves could reintroduce themselves naturally as a trigger point to start the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone. That wolf was within a day’s travel from Yellowstone. We grabbed the camera and took a few shots.

Once the photos were developed, and the double prints picked up, we found the address to send a copy to Ed Bangs (US Fish and Wildlife Service) with a letter explaining both of us were very familiar with coyotes and dogs and what we saw was neither one. It was maybe a month or two after that when we heard the news that wolves would be reintroduced to the park. While I’m sure our sighting was not the turning point for this, I do like to think that perhaps it was one of many that helped make this change.

Controversy

Bringing wolves back to Yellowstone has always been a contentious topic. The presence of wolves can negatively impact the ranchers here in the west. And yet, the introduction of the wolves also has brought back a healthier ecosystem. The views seem to be finding a balance. Those on the extremes (kill all wolves <——> save every wolf) see the issue as black and white. That’s a hard place to live. At least they seem to be fewer in number on this issue these days. But as always, I very much see multiple sides of topics and accept the balance that must exist. Life often provides multiple right answers. I am both glad to see the return of the wolves and the Game and Fish that manage them outside Yellowstone.

Seeing Yellowstone wolves today

In Yellowstone, they didn’t expect them to be so visible to the public when first reintroducing them. Now, I’m not at all surprised to see them. I’ve had wolves cross the road in front of me numerous times: north of Lake Hotel, on Sylvan Pass on many occasions, near Canyon, and I’ve watched them at a distance in Hayden Valley and the Lamar Valley. Those crossing the roads have all been just quick, chance sightings. In Hayden Valley and the Lamar Valley, there have been longer chances to appreciate them.

Now that the Wapiti pack is in the Old Faithful area often, I hope to have opportunities to see them there, since I usually hang out in the geyser basins. There was one time a couple of years ago that a gal came out of the woods on the trail from Solitary Geyser with wide eyes and visibly shaken. I asked if she was ok. Her mind was still trying to get around what happened. She was quietly walking down the trail, enjoying the peacefulness there when a “large dog – was it a wolf?” crossed just a few feet in front of her – not even acknowledging her presence. Knowing coyotes are also in the area I asked her about how tall? “German Shepherd size – no a bit bigger.” She held her hand out to indicate the height closer to her waist than her knees—definitely a wolf. We talked about how they usually will ignore people – and wasn’t a likely threat. I further assured her how the wolf probably already watched her coming down the trail. I pointed out what a unique encounter she just experienced. Then I watched her facial expression change from one of fear and overwhelm, trying to comprehend the situation, to one of wonder and awe.

Yellowstone National Park Service has been celebrating this achievement of 25 years of wolves through various Facebook Live events:

#25YearsOfWolves Week 1
#25YearsOfWolves Week 2
#25YearsOfWolves Week 3
#25YearsOfWolves Week 4
#25YearsOfWolves Week 5

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