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.
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.
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!