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Categorized | Featured, Outdoors

Wolf under my skin

Gray wolf howling. From Wikipedia.

By Ranger Steve Mueller


I wish I garnered reader excitement from insect nature niche articles like my “Hidden Mountain Lion” article did. After the lion article was published in newspapers, I received a phone call from Missoula, Montana with praise for the article. An Ann Arbor resident e-mailed, “You encapsulated so many excellent points so eloquently, Steve. It reminded me of a sign in Alaska that I just learned of: “Welcome to the bottom of the food chain!” In this era when we humans are loathe to take responsibility for our own actions, you nailed it and even wagged a cautionary finger about blaming the animal. Thank you.”  

In that article I stated, “It was wonderful to be a part of nature instead of being apart from nature”. 

The Montana resident used a search engine for key words and found the article. It is nice to be widely read. I also received positive comment from Sarasota, Florida.

Writing about wolves and lions brings positive, negative, and conflicting emotions. I have been fortunate to encounter wolves and bears in wild country but only lion tracks and scat. Those experiences remain fresh and alive. It is impossible to share feelings such encounters create. I have seen people act foolishly around bears and realized that if a mother bear lashed out at those that did not provide the lawful space required, it would be the bear that would be punished and likely euthanized. The people walked closer than lawful to a sow with two cubs in Grand Teton National Park despite me calling a warning for them to stop. 

I witnessed similar erroneous human behavior with elk. More people are killed by elk than bears and lions combined. In the case of wolves, there has never been a case of wolves attacking humans in the United States. 

Yellowstone National Park wolves are accustomed to people at a distance. They are protected in the park from harm and approach. Killing wolves outside the park is now permitted. One radio-collared research wolf was outside the park with her pack. She and a male saw a person but being used to people they only watched him. The man wanted a wolf pelt. He shot the female that watchers and researchers have observed for 6.5 years. 

The pack did not leave but circled around the dead female and howled. The man departed and returned with a handgun, in case the wolves tried to stop him from skinning her body of its pelt. He showed the author of the book American Wolf the pelt and said he did not regret killing the wolf and would do it again. 

Massive numbers of people visited Yellowstone with hopes of seeing that wolf in the wild. She was referred to as the most famous wolf in the world. She and her pack resided where people could frequently see them. Like many others, the man who shot her does not like wolves living in the ecosystem.  

There is a time and place when it is appropriate to kill wolves. When they attack domestic animals, it is best to remove those with such behavior. Defenders of Wildlife reimburses livestock owners when wolves take unsupervised free ranging livestock in national forests or those on private property. Fortunately, wolf killing of domestic animals is not rampant. Wild elk populations continue to thrive where wolves strengthen the herd. My 2014 wolf articles explained how wolves helped restore ecosystem health in the Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Wolves returned to Michigan, Wisconsin, and have maintained a wild population in Minnesota and Canada. I have been fortunate to encounter wolves in both Michigan and Canada and watched wolves in Yellowstone. The greatest emotional response was when I was conducting butterfly research in the Upper Peninsula and a wolf appeared. It watched me momentarily and disappeared. A similar experience occurred in Canada. The UP encounter was with a wolf that did not trust human presence and was a truly wild nature niche experience.

My “Wilderness Unique Treasure” program exemplifies the nature of wolves and wilderness as an essential part of the human spirit to be protected if we hope to pass on a vestige of the wild we inherited to future generations. 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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