Yellowstone, Part One

Wolves aren’t the only animals wearing collars in Yellowstone National Park.

It’s 22 degrees. I stand, trying not to shiver, on a snow-covered hillside peering through a spotting scope. It takes a second before my eyes focus in on the black wolf trotting across the landscape about a half a mile away. When I see it, my breathing stops and the distance between us disappears. I observe the pattern of various colored guard hairs, darker along the shoulders. I see the rounded ear tips and the pointed tip of its tail. I watch as the wolf moves without apparent effort, the straight of its back without any up or down motion as it glides along. I’m mesmerized and have to force myself to step back and share the scope.

This is my first wild wolf sighting and the first day of my visit visit to Yellowstone National Park. How much better could it get?

I was invited to the park by Marc and Lorenza Cooke of Wolves of the Rockies (WotR).  I met Marc and Lorenza, along with Rhonda Lanier, also of WotR, and KC York of Footloose Montana in Bozeman.  I watched the four of them tumble out of their packed vehicle in the parking lot of Defenders of Wildlife (DOW). I had interacted with all of these folks online or over the phone but meeting them in person was a thrill. Marc greeted me with a big hug, and the rest followed suit. Then we tramped up the steps for a meeting Marc had organized with DOW Rocky Mountain Director, Mike Leahy.

Beckie Elgin, Kc York, Marc Cooke, Lorenza Cooke, Rhonda Lanier, Mike Leahy

We chatted with Mike about current wolf issues and the upcoming election. Mike praised Wolves of the Rockies for their efforts, explaining the great benefit of having a wolf advocacy group based in the predominately anti-wolf area of the Bitterroot.  I learned that in Montana, the gubernatorial race is key. If Republican candidate Rick Hill wins over Steve Bullock, wolves and other wildlife have even more to fear.  We talked about trapping and the request made to the Montana Fish and Wildlife and Parks (MFWP) to increase the pan weight of traps to ten pounds. This would be a step forward in protecting lynx and pets from traps. There are only three days left to comment on this, see Wolves of the Rockies FB page for details. KC discussed her work with Footloose Montana and tried without success to enlist support from DOW for their anti-trapping initiative, stressing the importance of forming a unified front in our battle to preserve wildlife.

Rhonda rode with me for the trip from Bozeman to the park. We had just met but had so much in common. Rhonda does a lot of work not only for wolves but also for wild horses and burros. Our conversation about horses, wolves, our pets, and other animals made the one hour trip fly by.

Waiting for us at the house Marc had rented in Gardiner was Norman Bishop. Norm is legendary in the saga of Yellowstone wolves. He worked from 1985 to 1997 doing wolf restoration interpretation and education, giving over 400 talks to the public on wolves. He remains active in the wolf world, among other activities he serves on the Advisory Board for Living With Wolves.  He was one of the fortunate few that carried wolf crates onto the National Park land in 1995 and helped with the wolves in their soft release pens.

Being with Norm is like having a wolf encyclopedia at your side. He amazed us with the facts of both current and historical wolf lore, as well as details of the park. Norm knows Yellowstone intimately and as we drove through the park he shared memories of events he’d experienced there, like the time he was biking downhill when the huge form of a bison appeared around a curve just a few yards ahead. He had to slam on his breaks  to stop his bike before crashing into the furry beast and if the bison had started to cross the road a few moments earlier, well Norm might not have been here talking to us today.

Norm Bishop in the Lamar Valley, with David Brooks of Michigan in the background.

My trip was just beginning. Soon I was to meet more wonderful wolf people and see more wolves and other wildlife. So much excitement for a girl from Iowa!

6 thoughts on “Yellowstone, Part One

  1. Beckie, this bring back memories. It was an awesome time and it was great to meet you and get all together.
    Yellowstone trip no.2 is already in the making.
    Lorenza

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  2. I visit Yellowstone to recharge my soul. Watching wolves interact with their pack mates and other wildlife is wonderful. The icing on the cake is sharing these special moments with fellow advocates like yourself, Norm Bishop, KC York (Footloose Montana), Rhonda Lanier (WotR), Kim Bean (WotR), Kristi Lyoyd and Lorenza. Thank you for taking the time to come and putting into words for all to see! Keep up the good work! Marc

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  3. Beckie thank you for coming to Yellowstone and making my first trip there even more special; knowing that you, Kc York and I were sharing that same experience made it even more magical. I, too, found my breathing stopped when I first looked through the spotting scope and saw my first wolf in the wild; that beautiful back wolf trotting so effortlessly; so powerful, yet with the grace of a dancer.

    Marc is right: Yellowstone is the place to restore and recharge one’s soul. I miss you all so much; the only thing that made coming back and leaving YNP and all of you, was being reunited with my dog Juno and my 18 year old cat Milton a/k/a “The Big Guy”.

    Can’t wait for the next part. And for the next trip to Yellowstone. Hugs to all.

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  4. Yellowstone, seeing the wolves, and spending time getting to know you, Becky, and the rest of the kindred spirits was very surreal! It is something I will always remember and cherish! However to clarify, even though I attempted to elicit Defenders of Wildlife support, the fact is they still will not help or even endorse Footloose Montana’s next ballot initiative for trap free public lands. Especially with the legalizing of wolf trapping, the impact on wolves, and any animal for that matter, that ventures into the woods and falls victim to these weapons of mass destruction will be exceedingly brutal. The evidence is and will continue to be exposed. Yet, how Defenders of Wildlife can say they do not oppose trapping is dumbfounding. I’m still trying to figure out just what it is they Defend Wildlife for or against!

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