Use code DAD23 for 20% off + Free shipping on $45+ Shop Now!
The Life, Death, and Return of Wild American Wolves
Formats and Prices
- Hardcover $28.00 $35.00 CAD
- ebook $3.99 $4.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around May 2, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Also available from:
WHAT WE ALMOST LOST
1. AN HISTORIC RAGE
A bumper sticker on a battered Montana pick-up shows a sketch of a wolf and exhorts, "Smoke a Pack a Day." A mustached man with a wide-brimmed cowboy hat holds up a protest sign: "Wolves are Illegal Immigrants." A huge brightly colored billboard in Eastern Washington with paintings of elk, deer, cattle, dogs, and a smiling little girl on a swing asks, "The Wolf—Who's Next on the Menu?" An Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition leader clad in camouflage gear warns that "wolves are terrorists on the order of Osama bin Laden."
Search the Internet for "war against the wolf," and there are photo galleries of grinning bounty hunters, "wolfers," proudly posing on a porch in front of a rack of twenty wolf skins hanging down from metal hooks. Surrounding one live wolf roped around the neck, there are five men on horseback, ready to ride off in all directions—and tear the wolf to pieces. In another photo an entire family of black wolves lie in a snowy meadow, a bloody circle. Most revealing of all is an image of a gang of hunters with rifles and white KKK-style masks over their faces as they triumphantly drape a dead wolf in a huge American flag.
Why is there still such fury against an animal that has been hunted almost to extinction in this country? The historic rage against sharing control of prey and territory has its roots in both European and American history—and in the hunting culture that still dominates every wildlife policy.
To the early European settlers the wild wolf—like the mysterious and vast wilderness itself—was not a precious partner of the New World to be preserved. Along with native peoples, wolves were another impediment to western expansion—enemies to be subdued and excluded. Chickasaw author Linda Hogan writes eloquently about her people's traditionally balanced relationship with predators: "From the men's cave comes the howling of wolves. I think that these are the songs of lives struggling against extinction, even translated through human voices, they are here inside the earth, inside the human body, the captive, contained animals."
Early American colonies continued the Old World persecution of wolves. To Europeans the wolf was the enemy, like the Big Bad Wolf tales told in the seventeenth-century French court, a metaphor for predatory men who might prey upon aristocratic daughters. Wolves are the villains in "The Three Little Pigs," Russia's "Peter and the Wolf," and in many Grimm and Aesop's fairy tales. Sadly these associations and myths were not left behind in Old Europe.
European settlers rarely fenced in their sheep or cows; livestock wandered about, easy prey for wolves and other predators. In the 1630s Massachusetts Bay and Virginia instituted wolf bounties, and many other colonies followed suit. In a gesture of dominion over both nature and Native Americans, Virginia demanded that local tribes kill a yearly wolf quota and turn in the hides as tribute.
In his groundbreaking anthology War Against the Wolf: America's Campaign to Exterminate the Wolf, Yellowstone wolf researcher Rick McIntyre chronicles this history of hatred and decimation. "What the colonists tried to do in their local area—the extermination of all wolves—became the policy of our emerging nation. Destruction of predators became a heritage passed on for generation after generation."
McIntyre points out that humans haven't always felt so threatened and hostile to wolves. Early hunter-gatherer cultures coexisted with wolves in what one wolf biologist, Ed Bangs, now calls "brothers in the hunt." An NPR story, "Who Let the Dogs In? We Did, About 30,000 Years Ago," notes that "there may have been a faithful Fido walking with a human before the end of the last Ice Age (and before agriculture)."
Researchers have for centuries assumed that today's gray wolf was the genetic ancestor of the modern dog. But genetic studies reported in the 2015 Scientific American article "From Wolf to Dog" reveal the surprising news that "an extinct type of wolf gave rise to the dog before the agricultural revolution began around 12,000 years ago." That means the current-day gray wolf is a "sister taxa, descended from an unknown ancestor that has since gone extinct." The article documents studies of dogs and wolves, where both species are bottle fed, hand raised, and trained to obey simple commands. The conclusion: "Despite having lived and worked with the scientists for seven years, the wolves retained an independence of mind and behavior that is most un-doglike." Even raised by people, wolves "lack such respect for human authority."
So Canis lupus, the wild wolf, evolved independently from our domesticated dogs, and this independence is perhaps what triggers our intolerance, even outrage. One definition of the word "wild" is "self-willed." Wolves are certainly self-willed and do not obey our commands, even if we raise them by hand. A dog respects our authority, our "No!," and, even on the hunt, must stop short of a canine instinct to kill: a well-trained hunting dog will wait for the hunter to retrieve a fox or pheasant for himself. Canis lupus' willfulness has worked against their survival.
As our nomadic ancestors settled into agriculture, hunter-gatherers no longer had to wander in far-ranging packs to feed their families. We could, as the Bible seemed to ordain, "be fruitful and multiply" into growing and settled populations. After depleting the Old World of wild animals like wolves and destroying old-growth forests, the European settlers migrated to a New World and simply repeated their profligate and unsustainable use of the natural world. Bountiful game, like the vast Great Plains bison, was hunted almost to extinction as settlers expanded their range. When the bison disappeared, the wolf "brothers in the hunt" had much less prey. They were forced out of the wilderness and closer to our farms and ranches. Wolves had little regard for our fences. They were out of our control and therefore rivals to be destroyed, just like any animal or peoples who got in the way of Manifest Destiny.
McIntyre tells the story of visiting an Alaskan Inupiat village called Shaktoolik along the Bering Strait in 1993 to talk about predators with tribal high school students. When he showed them historic slides of thousands of wolves killed by strychnine poisoning, the Native students were shocked and troubled. This was a tribe in which hunting was a way of life. But Inupiat hunters were accustomed to killing wolves only if they attacked local reindeer herds.
One of the teenage boys asked McIntyre, "Why did they want to kill off all the wolves?"
McIntyre realized that the Native boy was unaware of the massive government wolf extermination programs in the lower forty-eight states. "The concept of attempting to destroy all the members of a wildlife species was completely alien to them," he writes. The boy walked away shaking his head in dissatisfaction. "None of it related to the reality of his world, a Native American world of traditions, ethics, and morals that set limits on what humanity can do to fellow forms of life."
In the nineteenth century European settlers claimed huge swaths of government-given free land—if they agreed to farm it. Farmers and wealthy ranchers, "stockmen," were given priority in government policies on private and public lands. In The Great American Wolf Bruce Hampton writes that in 1906, "the U.S. Forest Service acquiesced to the stockowners and enlisted the help of the Bureau of Biological Survey to clear cattle ranges of gray wolves. In other words, the Bureau became a wolf-extermination unit."
A 1907 Department of Agriculture bulletin echoes this wolf-control zeal as it addresses "the best methods for destroying these pests," citing wolf predation on cattle ranges and loss of game on forest lands. The goal of the bulletin was "to put in the hands of every hunter, trapper, forest ranger, and ranchman directions for trapping, poisoning, and hunting wolves and finding the dens of the young.… Prime wolf skins are worth from $4 to $6 each, enough to induce trappers and enterprising ranch boys to make an effort to secure them."
One of the most efficient ways to destroy wolves was "denning," or killing the pups while still in the den. One pup would be saved and chained to a tree to call the parents and wolf pack for help. Then the government trappers would gun down the entire family. When the trappers used poisoned carcasses to bait wolves, the collateral damage included bears, ravens, foxes, and eagles who fed on what the wolves left behind. The bounty hunts and government wolf-eradication programs that began in the nineteenth century continued until as late as 1965, offering $20 to $50 per wolf. Today the historic reluctance to share our habitat with other top predators is still very much alive.
Even in a twenty-first century of enlightened science, with recognition of the balancing roles that predators play in our ecosystems, this prejudice thrives. When I grew up in a national forest there was no concept of the forest as wild and complex, an interconnected biosphere, complete in itself, without serving our human needs. The mandate for forest and wildlife managers was "multiple use," with an emphasis on human utility. And many in the hunting culture I was raised in viewed wolves as "pests" or competition or sometimes just trophies.
I GREW UP WITH HUNTERS. They fed me. Like wolves, they also kept the deer and elk populations from overgrazing the high meadows so the forests and streams were healthier. And hunters told hilarious stories around the campfire while we devoured their barbequed bounty. I still have deep respect for skilled hunters who have a keen knowledge of nature, who can track, patiently wait, and sustainably hunt for their family, like my father. He taught us that wild animals like deer and elk died so that we might live. And of this sacrifice we must be mindful.
"Think about how hard it was to hunt this supper and who you're eating," my father would say. Or, as we munched on sausage cookies made from moose meat or venison, "Nothing wasted."
We used all parts of the animal, so that a big elk might also be ground into stew meat or sliced into thin salami. The elk head and horns went on the wall to watch us more earnestly than any babysitter. Every Christmas Eve we made our own moccasins for the New Year out of whatever Father had tanned. In my childhood forest we recognized ourselves as intricately linked to the food chain and the fate of the forest. We knew, for example, that a forest fire meant that at the end of the line we'd suffer too. We'd have buck stew instead of venison steak, and the meat would be stringy, withered tasting. Because in the animal kingdom, as it seemed with humans, only the lean and shrewd survived losing their forests.
Unlike my family, wolf packs have not survived losing their forests. When I was born, wild wolves were nearly all eradicated in America's lower forty-eight states. After the relentless, systematic, and successful official extermination of wolves in the United States, only a few hundred of the original 2 million wolves still survived, mostly in the upper Midwest and Alaska.
The hunter bias is still reflected in today's many states' agencies outdated names—Fish and Game Boards instead of Fish and Wildlife Service. The US Forest Service falls under the authority of the Department of Agriculture—as if our public lands and wilderness areas are only for livestock, and wildlife exists as our private game preserve. Or as if our forests are simply tree farms for timber.
In America's wildlife agencies predator control often falls within the same governmental department as wildlife protection, creating a clear conflict of interest. For example, Wildlife Services, an often under-the-radar agency, still kills millions of wild animals every year, though it was once part of the Fish and Wildlife Service charged with the exact opposite mandate: enforcing the Endangered Species Act. On its website Wildlife Services' official mission is "to resolve wildlife conflicts to allow people and wildlife to coexist." But the reality is devastating: a 2013 New York Times editorial called for a congressional investigation of Wildlife Services, pointing out, "since 2000, some two million dead animals. Coyotes, beavers, mountain lions, black bears and innumerable birds." The article concludes, "The agency's real mission? To make life safer for livestock and game species.… Wildlife Services' lethal damage is broad and secretive."
More recently the USDA reported that Wildlife Services had "killed at least 3.2 million wild animals in 2015 alone—many of which were large predators. 1,681,283 of that total were animals native to the United States." Coyotes (69,905) were widely targeted, but also 384 gray wolves, 284 cougars, 480 black bears, 731 bobcats, 3,045 foxes, 20,334 prairie dogs, 21,557 beavers, and even 17 domestic dogs. Birds took the greatest hit, with hundreds of thousands of starlings, red-winged blackbirds, and cowbirds—species that travel with livestock—all killed in this one year by Wildlife Services. This is especially bad news for the 47 million bird watchers in the United States, about 20 percent of the population. Contrast this agency's "take" with the fact that Americans who view and value wildlife is increasing: Fish and Wildlife Services in 2011 reported 71.9 million wildlife watchers, including 13.7 million hunters (4.3 percent of the 318.9 million Americans) and 33.1 million anglers. In the United States hunters are mostly male and 94 percent are white, 3 percent African American, and 0.5 percent Asian.
"Wildlife Services is one of the most opaque and least accountable agencies," protested Oregon congressman Peter DeFazio. "They are a world unto themselves. And that's a world we are not allowed to see into."
The tab that taxpayers paid for in 2014 for Wildlife Services to destroy all those wild animals was $1 billion. An award-winning investigative documentary, Exposed, by Brooks Fahy of predatordefense.org blows the whistle on this "barbaric, wasteful, and misnamed agency within the USDA and exposes the government's secret war on wildlife on the taxpayer's dime." The film interviews former Wildlife Services trappers who have the courage to protest the carnage they were being asked to commit and keep secret.
One former Wildlife Services trapper explained that the Wyoming Department of Agriculture was using poisons that had been banned since the 1970s to sell to predator control boards and ranchers. In a troubling echo of this revelation, a former special agent for US Fish and Wildlife Law Enforcement, Doug McKenna, said of his investigations, "It always seemed the words 'eagles, coyotes, and wolves' led us to poisons, and led us to Wildlife Services."
In a particularly harrowing story from the film, Rex Shaddox, a former Wildlife Services trapper who participated in the Wyoming sting operation that helped expose some of his agency's animal abuse, narrates the turning point that led him to blow the whistle on Wildlife Services. He talks about the agency's disregard for posting any poison notices, even along trails, leaving poisons exposed for "tree huggers and environmentalists to come in, take pictures, and mess with our units." This is not only dangerous for animals but also for people, who might stumble on the M44 cyanide poison ejectors. If triggered, the poison can lead to permanent brain damage and paralysis in all species.
These often-hidden toxins also poisoned, maimed, and killed people's pets. When domestic dogs were found dead, Shaddox says, the Wildlife Services officials were ordered to "get rid of the dog's collars, bury the dogs, and never report their deaths—that was standard practice. So that's what we did."
Everything changed for Shaddox one morning when he was ordered to report to the city dump in Uvalde, Texas City. There he found other Wildlife Services trappers, his district supervisor, and the Animal Control officer from Uvalde. There was also a truckload of domestic dogs who were to be used to test the sodium cyanide pills often used to eradicate wolves. The pills were expired and supposed to be buried as toxic waste. Though it is illegal for the Wildlife Services to use sodium cyanide on domestic dogs, the Wildlife Services supervisor held down the dogs, and one at a time, force-fed them sodium cyanide pills.
"Within seconds," Shaddox recalls, "the dogs would start whining, dropping down in their hind quarters, hemorrhaging from their nose and mouth, eyes rolling back… in a lot of pain." Then the Wildlife Services supervisor would pop open the nitrate antidote under the dog's nose to revive the dogs and bring them back to life. That same dog would again be forcibly dosed with the sodium cyanide capsule, go through the same horrible pain, and finally be kicked in the side and rolled off into the garbage of the city dump. "And the dogs just lay down there," Shaddox finished with a shake of his head, "hollering and whining until they died."
Shaddox got into a heated argument with his supervisor over the treatment of those dogs at the city dump. Shortly after his protests Shaddox quit Wildlife Services.
"Predator management in the U.S. primarily means flying helicopters, setting cyanide ejectors, hiding traps, and using ambush and sniper tactics to slay animals," writes federal and university researcher John A. Shivik in his book, Predator Paradox: Ending the War with Wolves, Bears, Cougars, and Coyotes. "Modern predator management looks like a war not only with predators, but one with nature itself." Since the 1914 federal appropriation, the war against wildlife, says Shivik, is "the longest war carried out by the U.S. government.… The death toll is tremendous: 84,584 wolves, coyotes, bears, and lions were terminated by the Department of Agriculture and Wildlife Services, in 2011 alone. At 365, wolf deaths amounted to exactly one wolf a day for the year."
One wolf killed every day for a year. And in that same year the federal government delisted wolves, declaring them fully recovered and sustainable populations. This 2011 federal delisting was not based on sound science. In fact, many of the government's own scientists in a peer-reviewed 2014 panel protested this political decision; in an independent and unanimous decision the panel determined that the delisting proposal was premature and not based on "the best available science."
Since federal delisting and the return of wolf management to the states, over four thousand wolves have been legally killed in five states. In Idaho, which is America's ground zero for state-sanctioned wolf hunting, the battle has been particularly bloody. And yet even among government-hired wolf trappers there are those who, like the Wildlife Services whistle-blowers, promote a more ecological and humane approach to wolf management.
Wolf trapper turned wolf advocate Carter Niemeyer, author of the lively memoir Wolfer, tells the story of leaving Wildlife Services after twenty-six years in 1999 to move to Idaho and work on wolf recovery issues for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Instead of killing wolves, Niemeyer began teaching biologists how to shoot running wolves with tranquilizer darts from helicopters for relocation. Often caught in the crossfire between antiwolf ranchers and prowolf advocates, Niemeyer's decades of trapping and studying wolves lent him more informed knowledge of wild wolves than most in this polarized debate.
"From the moment I arrived in Idaho," writes Niemeyer, "I felt like I was in a war zone." Wolf advocates were suspicious and insistent that he, a former trapper, wouldn't be fair minded when it came to wolf recovery. On the other side, Niemeyer documents how the antiwolfers, with their "Idaho wolf hysteria" and "tedious, fire-and-brimstone style" scare tactics, triggered a statewide Anti-Wolf Coalition that had great influence on local politicians. Its founder, Ron Gillet, and his antiwolf "brand of evangelism" tried and failed to gather enough signatures for a ballot initiative to "get rid of wolves once and for all."
After trying to talk with such furious ranchers, Niemeyer concluded, "It wasn't the wolves that made me more inclined to be on the wolf's side, it was the macho swagger of people like this." It reminded Niemeyer of the wildlife official, Ed Bangs, who commented about our wolf battles: "Wolves have nothing to do with reality." Meaning that our human passion plays around wolf politics are not grounded in the reality of wolves in the wild. Hate them as terrorists or love them as noble remnants of the wild, the real lives of wolves are often overlooked in our own struggles for dominion and management. "My principal goal in Idaho was wolf recovery," Neimeyer says, "but I was having the most trouble with people."
In Idaho, as in many states, the antiwolf voices were a minority, but they received a disproportionately high degree of media, political, and governmental attention. Niemeyer could "count on one hand the number of folks with real wolf trouble." Because "most wolf issues happened on public land," Niemeyer argues, for ranchers "losing livestock to predators should be an accepted cost of doing business." But Niemeyer concludes, "Maybe livestock interests are too powerful. Or maybe most people are just unaware that the system still operates as though the West is still being settled."
A 2011 report from the Department of Agriculture documented that only 0.2 percent of all livestock losses that year were due to wolf predation. Compare this with over 50 percent of livestock deaths due to calving/birthing complications, respiratory issues, and bad weather. Yet the livestock industry still demands the US government manage wildlife to benefit humans over any ecological needs. Contrary to statements by the hunting lobby, new research shows that wolves are not really fierce competition for game animals. In the Bitterroot Valley researchers discovered that wolves are responsible for only 5 percent of elk predation.
Other ranchers and hunters are taking a different tack when it comes to wolves. Their voices are often unheard, but they are powerful. In a special 2014 "Hunter's Edition," the National Wolf Watcher Coalition published many letters advocating for wolf recovery. Hunters across the country explained why they oppose wolf hunting. A hunting family from Pennsylvania submitted a photo of their sign, "REAL HUNTERS DON'T KILL WOLVES." They write, "Hunting wolves is wrong and immoral… my family was brought up to respect life." In New York a hunter believes, "the wolf encounter provides a connection. Such reverence both ways is impossible to experience in a predatory relationship."
Slowly the earlier centuries' prejudices, regressive fears, and single-minded priorities are evolving as new generations consider the whole ecosystem. This means awareness not just of what humans need but also what the forest, the streams, and the wildlife need to thrive. Those who most successfully balance the ecosystem are not human hunters; they are the self-regulating predators, like wolves. With a single breeding pair in each family, wolves self-limit their offspring according to available food prey and climate conditions. Humans might consider modeling their appetites on that of the wild wolf. Wolves do not destroy an entire species or habitat as a way to defend their territory—there are limits to their hunting. Wolf parents pass down hunting skills to their young, comparable to what the Boone and Crockett Club, one of America's oldest conservation organizations, calls "Fair Chase Ethics." These guidelines advise their hunter members to "Behave in a way that will bring no dishonor to either the hunter, the hunted, or the environment." Instead of more generations of wolf control, we need more self-control.
As my hunter friends often remind me, "The wolf is a good hunter."
2. "WHO SPEAKS FOR WOLF?"
There have always been voices raised in defense of wolves. In their creation stories Native Americans included the wolf and regarded them as First People. Clans named themselves after wolves and modeled this great hunter's skills. They were Wolf People. The Lakota tribe recognized the Buffalo Wolf, Sung'manitu-tanka Oyate, or "Wolf Nation," as another sovereign tribe that also claimed the Great Plains as its territory. That wolf bond was strong in the famous Lakota Sioux warrior, Crazy Horse.
Many indigenous peoples—from the Hopi and Navajos of the Southwest to the southern Cherokee and Seminole, the northeast Penobscot and Algonquian to the midwestern Chippewa tribes—believed the wolf was a spiritual guide and ally. Here in the Far Northwest both the Makah and Quileute tribes with whom I've worked regard wolves as their own ancestors. The late Quileute elder Fred Woodruff explained his tribe's creation story: "Our tribe originally descended from wolves. We believe they are our relatives and are always welcome in our land."
On one of my visits to the Quileute reservation in LaPush, Washington, Woodruff's daughter, a talented Native artist, presented me with a wolf carving painted with the stylized red and black totemic design. Her father said thoughtfully, "We learned from the wolf how to survive and how to be more human. How to honor our elders, to protect and provide for our families—and we learned from wolves the loyalty you need to really belong to a tribe."
Native peoples talk much about "soul loss," and shamans often don wolf skins to do their spiritual work from within the animal as they cross over into other worlds. There they call upon the wolf's power to summon back lost or sick souls. The Shoshone tribe believes that the wolf can heal a person who is suffering soul loss. Wolf medicine confers the power to call our wandering spirits back. We risk soul and habitat loss when we destroy the wild wolf, who helps us bring our shared lands back to life.
One of the most far-sighted and still ecologically true tales of the wild wolf is a traditional Oneida story passed down for thousands of years to the late Paula Underwood (Turtle Woman Singing). She translated the original oral history into English as "Who Speaks for Wolf?" This story is an example of the growing body of ancient and modern Native Science being reclaimed by researchers. The Oneida tribe, part of the Iroquois Confederacy, live in New York and Pennsylvania. The story begins with a familiar dilemma: "LONG AGO / Our people grew in number so that where we were / was no longer enough."
The tribe considered moving to a new territory. As in any council decision there was always someone "to whom Wolf was brother." This tribal member "was so much Wolf's brother / that he would sing their song to them / and they would answer him." Taking the point of view of the animals who shared their homes, the tribe could then always heed the Iroquois admonition that we must make all our decisions with the next seven generations in mind. Those future generations include wolves.
- "A rich account of a most enigmatic creature."—Library Journal
- "In eloquent language, Peterson brings us to the truisms that not only does wilderness need wolves, but wolves must thrive to make the world whole again."—Booklist
- "Blending solid history with on-the-ground reportage, Peterson turns in a spirited defense of Canis lupus."—Kirkus Reviews
- "Gripping and wonderfully lucid, this is both an entrancing and necessary read."—Manhattan Book Review
- "[Wolf Nation] is a comprehensive look at these animals - their behavior and biology, why they howl and how they hunt, how alpha females can lead a family pack, and how their presence has improved every ecology to which they have returned."—Cosmos
- "The story of how wolves...came to reinhabit the American West is recounted in Brenda Peterson's instructive new book...[She] has ideal credentials to undertake such a project."—Wall Street Journal
"In Wolf Nation, Peterson adeptly captures the plight of wolves on this continent, stressing the importance of their return to prominence in nature."
—Winnipeg Free Press
"A riveting, heartwarming, and occasionally heartbreaking history of wolves in America."
—Chicago Review of Books
"Peterson broadens the existing wolf-behavior knowledge base through well-informed discussions of the pivotal effect that wolves have on wild ecosystems, the increasingly sophisticated study of wolf biology, and not only why wolves howl but what they might be saying."
—Santa Fe New Mexican
- "Peterson's considerable writing skills shine brilliantly through her engaging, flowing prose as she seamlessly interweaves science, history and memoir in this important and meticulously researched book."—Forbes, ?The 10 Best Environment, Climate Science and Conservation Books of 2017?
- On Sale
- May 2, 2017
- Page Count
- 304 pages
- Da Capo Press