Gray wolves live as a family unit and are social animals. They share duties much like we humans. The idea that wolves will hunt down a human has been proven to be utter nonsense. There has never been a case of a wolf attacking and/or killing a human. Those stories belong in Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
In spite of this, when Europeans settled in this country, they began to kill off the wolf population which ranged widely across the continent. Two species were found in North America, the gray wolf and its various subspecies and the red wolf found in the southeastern United States.
It wasn’t long before they were hunted nearly to extinction. Destroying these predators brought about other problems. Their prey, deer and elk, increased in numbers and began to range with the cattle, horses and sheep eating much of the pastureland. Over population caused many to starve during the winter when food was scarce.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “…the Gray Wolf, being a keystone predator, is an integral component of the ecosystems to which it typically belongs. The wide range of habitats in which wolves can thrive reflects their adaptability as a species, and includes temperate forests, mountains, tundra, taiga, and grasslands.”
These predators, like most, have a particular prey, depending on their habitat. They feed on large (four legged) mammals, such as deer and elk, generally removing the sick and injured animals from the populations. Though wolves have families much like humans, the Alpha male and female are the only ones in the pack to produce young, typically two or three per season. And occasionally, when times are lean, they put off procreating at all. They raise their young cooperatively.
By the middle of the 20th century, only a few hundred gray wolves lived in Minnesota and an isolated population survived on Michigan’s Isle Royale. There were reports of sightings of an occasional Mexico or red wolf, but few wolves existed in the lower 48 States. They were all but extinct in the western and Rocky Mountain states.
In an effort to save the species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed gray wolf recovery plans for several parts of the country. In cooperation with species experts and knowledgeable staff from State wildlife agencies, other Federal agencies, universities, and conservation organizations, they set a goal to restore this elegant animal to a secure status in several areas of its historical range.
Ranchers hotly objected to the restoration of the wolves. They signed petitions and many shot and killed this predator despite imposed fines of up to $10,000 plus a year in prison. In direct conflict with the feelings of these ranchers, some behavioral scientists claim that the few wolves that begin to kill domesticated animals can be retrained. However, those who are found to do so are eradicated. Most wolves prefer the elk and deer population, they say. Others still vehemently claim that wolves will breed like rats and soon over-populate the cattle grazing ranges. Some even cling to the antiquated fear that wolves will steal their children.
Because of the Gray Wolf Restoration Act, today, more than 5,000 gray wolves live in the lower 48 States. Thanks to protection from unregulated hunting and trapping provided by the Act, improved habitat for prey, and recovery programs, the wolf population in the western Great Lakes States of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan has recovered to a point that it no longer needs the protection of the Act. Gray wolf populations in the northern Rocky Mountains have, in some areas, been delisted, and the animals are no longer on the endangered list. In Wyoming they are protected under the Act as “nonessential, experimental populations.”
Probably the best-known and most criticized wolf recovery effort was the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in 1995 and 1996. After an absence of more than 50 years, the Service brought wild gray wolves from Canada to the Park and to the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area in Idaho. The goal was to speed up recovery in the Rocky Mountain region and restore a species to the historic range from which it had been eliminated in the late 1920s. It is working. At night their mournful howls once again fill the silence of the mountains.
Recovery partners released wolves as family groups in Yellowstone and individually in central Idaho. The program has been extremely successful. As a result three young pups, members of the Lazy Creek Pack of gray wolves that live in Yellowstone Park, frolick near their hidden den, tumbling about in the sweet green grass. A few young aunts baby sit while the Alpha male and female are away hunting. Soon the pups will go along and take part.
In the crisp mountain air, the Alpha wolf scents a huge herd of elk that recently wandered onto the high ground for summer grazing. One lags behind, a perfect target for the two gray wolves, who attack in tandem, going for the throat. Once they’ve brought down the prey, the real work begins. They rip and tear the food into small enough pieces to carry back to the den for the pups.
The remainder of the pack have waited patiently under a stand of aspen trees, and they move toward the dinner table. The Alpha challenges the youngest male, wrestling him to his back. He must wait his turn until the older members have their fill.
The magnificent gray Alpha male and female then carry meat to the waiting pups, and the aunts are released to join the others at the feast.
For more information on the current status of the wolves, see: http://ecos.fws.gov/speciesProfile/profile/speciesProfile.action?spcode=A00D
Olivia dreams of running with the wolves, and wishes she could escape to avoid dealing with her guilt. Her sister lies in a hospital, kept alive by machines, and it’s Olivia’s fault she’s there.
Wolf Shadow, a reluctant and inexperienced Cheyenne Shape Shifter who can occupy the body of a wolf, appears to help her release her sister to the spiritual world.
Someone is killing the gray wolves released to the wild. When Olivia and her friend Ginni get involved in TenderCare, an organization that supports the restoration of the gray wolf, both are threatened. Who is their new friend, Singer? Could he be behind the threats? And if so, why?