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The C.A.S.H. Courier

ARTICLE from the Spring 2010 Issue

A Day In The Sun For The Hayden Wolves

By Jim Robertson

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007, was unseasonably warm and the Hayden wolf pack was stretched out in the bright afternoon light on a west-facing slope just below the tree line, taking full advantage of what may be their last chance to sunbathe for the year. With a snow level creeping toward the valley bottoms, the adult wolves knew that temperatures were soon to plummet and they may not get another peaceful nap like this for a long, long time. The Hayden pack consisted of nine members, including the alpha male, a pure white alpha female, two gray yearlings, three gray pups born that spring and the sole black pack member, another half-grown pup who sported an extra thick coat. A third gray yearling was away on his own excursion.

When the rapidly waning sun dropped enough to shroud their rendezvous site in shadows, the alpha male grew restless, slowly getting up to stretch. One by one the rest of the pack rose and fell in line as their leader started down in the direction of the Yellowstone River.

The procession moved along a sage-covered slope that led to a bank above the river. There they found themselves directly across from a road and a parking area full of waiting spectators. The undaunted alpha male led the pack south along the bank to a point which allowed an easy crossing. He was the first to take to the water, followed by the yearlings. The stark white alpha female was a blinding streak in the harsh light, as she swam ahead of the pups on this, the safer part of their valley crossing. Next, they would have to cross the treacherous and potentially deadly road. One by one, they bolted to the other side of the man-made obstacle. Fortunately, all cars were stopped since every human eye was glued to them.

Together again, they bounded up into the shade of a lodge pole pine grove, shaking off their uneasy experience as they shook water off their drenched coats. Without pause, they headed up the ridgeline about to cross over and continue west, but something caught the yearlings’ attention. Suddenly they tore out after a young doe who had risked leaving the cover of the forest for the lure of an open meadow. The inexperienced deer didn’t stand a chance against the incredible, greyhound-like speed of the determined wolves. One quickly caught her by the hind leg and brought her down and a split second later the other yearling had her by the throat. In less than a heartbeat, a living, breathing deer was reduced to a lifeless carcass. The rest of the pack descended like vultures. Now, all the food energy she had secured over her short lifetime was being hastily divided up and consumed by hungry carnivores.

Meanwhile, the missing yearling pack member had returned to the rendezvous site only to find his pack had gone on without him. He began to howl plaintively, but his calls of, “Where did everybody go?” went selfishly ignored as he anxiously searched the wrong side of the river for his unmoved family members.

Hunger-driven and temporarily forgetting her maternal ties, the alpha female’s snow white coat was now tainted red and her temperament was equally fouled. Acting like a raging bitch in the throes of PMS, she would suddenly grow tired of sharing and charge the pups with hackles raised and fangs bared, bowling them over or biting their muzzles. A long-suffering parent who was finally fed up, this may have been her way of saying, “The party’s over—from now on no more nursing or regurgitated meat for you. Winter’s coming and it’s time you learned there’s no free lunch.”

Then again, it could well have been PMS (or some kind of unfavorable flesh-fueled hormones) behind her power-tripping display, which included the mannish practice of raising a hind leg while peeing. She even charged the alpha male and feigned a bite to his muzzle, but Mr. Mellow just tried to stay out of her way. Too dignified to get his ruff all bloody, he didn’t join in on the group gorge. Instead he chose to wait until the carcass was reduced to a few meaty bones, which he carried off one at a time to gnaw on in peace. But his quiet meal was intermittently interrupted when a pup or two would squirm up to him seeking approval, falling all over themselves like court jesters.

When the pack moved on there was nothing but bare bones and hide left for the missing yearling. Instead of sustenance, all he got was a learning experience—a tough lesson on staying together. But if he misses out on a meal like this during the frigid winter months, he may not make it through one of the many long, windy nights.

The mule deer population was booming in Yellowstone that year and the wolves were efficiently playing their part in nature‘s saga—a role that has served populations of both predator and prey for eons. Like rightful kings returning from exile, wolves are far from new to the Yellowstone ecosystem. Their 71 year absence from the area was the result of the senseless bounty set by the real newcomers on the scene.

Modern humans with their traps, snares, poisons and rifles are the only thing new to the fine-tuned system of checks and balances that has regulated itself since life first evolved. New to the scene are cowboys and their monoculture “crop” of cows, along with barbed wire fences and four-wheelers. New are pack trains of sport hunters, intolerant of any competition from mere canines, yet eager to take trophies of wolf heads and hides, while leaving the unpalatable meat to rot. New is the notion that humankind can replace nature’s time-tested order with so-called “wildlife management”—a regime that has not yet managed to prove itself worthy.

Unmatched manipulators, modern humans have moved so far beyond the natural order that population constraints like disease or starvation are no longer a threat to the species’ survival (as long as society continues to function). But wolf packs are at the mercy of nature’s generosity. Wolves can’t afford to be acquisitive; without a plentiful prey base, they perish.

Theirs is a precarious struggle, without the comforting promise of immortality.

Jim Robertson is an ethical photographer. He photographs animals in the wild only, not in captive settings. Visit his website at www.animalsinthewild.org.

TRAPPING DESTROYS WILDLIFE WATCHING AND THE WOLVES

A photo that had been circulating on the internet showed a wolf and bear fishing for salmon. The comment was that it was a rare sight. We forwarded the photos to Jim Robertson, an ethical photographer, who has spent much time in our national parks photographing animals. He wrote:

Why aren’t wolves seen fishing alongside bears in Katmai (National Park and Preserve in Southern AK) more often?  One reason is that the wolf population around there is nearly trapped out every winter.  That has happened to the Katmai wolves on several of the years I’ve been there.  Though it is prime habitat, all I’ve ever seen is one set of wolf tracks in Katmai.  In winter, when the lakes and rivers are frozen over, the wolves head down to the lowlands out of the park and into the “preserve” or state land that allows trapping by anyone who wants to hop on his snowmobile and set out a trapline.

Jim Robertson’s photo of the Hyder wolves titled, “Wolves Resolve Argument SE Alaska”

For some background on the photo, Jim wrote: The first time I beheld the sight of wolves in the wild was outside the decrepit mining-town-turned-tourist-trap of Hyder, at Fish Creek, a bear-viewing reserve on the Alaska/British Columbia border. Due to local persecution, wolves had not been seen in the area for decades, and their return that year was greeted with generous appreciation by an assembly of lucky bear watchers and photographers who shared in my elation.

But the spectacle lasted only one short season and by late fall a few resident tyrants—under the self-delusion that it’s all here for them—had trapped, shot or otherwise driven off the entire pack. Today the only sign of wolves in Hyder is a hand painted plywood sign advertising “Wolf Hides For Sale” in front of a detestable trinket shop on a muddy back road of the wretched little town. Wolves in Alaska can legally be killed by anyone, practically anytime, by any means imaginable (former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s personal favorite is strafing from low-flying aircraft).

All photos from www.animalsinthewild.org have been printing with permission.

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