Wolf Interrupted


Lookout Pack Pups. Photo: Conservation Northwest

My, What Big Teeth You Have

“Can anyone tell me what’s good about wolves?” asked nine-year-old Irene Popp of Kamiah, Idaho, during a public meeting in Salmon. The 27 July meeting preceded the Idaho Fish and Game Commission vote the next day which set the hunting and trapping — leg hold and neck snare (read, strangulation) — season for the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf.

I wasn’t at the meeting and I don’t live in Idaho. From my wee abode in the shadow of Last Chance, I listened to this story on NPR by Jessica Robertson, NW News Network. Maybe little Irene had been reading wolf-vilifying fairytales such as “Little Red Riding Hood” or “Three Little Pigs”? How could one so young form such a definite and angry sentiment against wolves? I went so far as to locate little Irene’s telephone number through her father’s listing. Mike Popp, Irene’s daddy, was also mentioned in the story and the two were listed as a father and daughter anti-wolf team. I simply wanted to call up little Irene and ask her why she felt so strongly against wolves. No harm intended.

While searching for Mike Popp’s number, I discovered that papa Popp owns an outfitting and guide business and is licensed for bobcat, deer, bear, cougar and, last but not least, wolf hunting. OK, so I no longer needed to ask little Irene why she felt so negatively toward wolves. I had my answer. I could only imagine what she’d been hearing around the dinner table. I did not pick up the telephone.

“Open ’em year round. Hunt ’em, trap ’em, run ’em over. Don’t make a collared wolf illegal to shoot. Shoot ’em!” Mike Popp exclaimed during the meeting in Salmon. Papa Popp was also there with a group called the Committee for a Safe and Wolf-Free Idaho. Scary stuff.

I typically find myself rooting for underdogs such as the Big Bad Wolf, who was cooked up in a pot in the conclusion of “Three Little Pigs.” I feel pity for the Big Grey Wolf, who was strung up by his tale and later paraded off to the zoo in “Peter and the Wolf.” I am horrified when the hunter cuts open the belly of the wolf to release Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmamma, filling the gaping cavity with stones so he will drown. (After all, maybe granny and Lil’ Red had it coming?) I even want Wile E. Coyote to catch that damn, smug roadrunner, to stop falling from cliffs, being crushed by various heavy objects.

Little Irene Popp, wolves help keep our forest’s creeks and rivers healthy by bringing ungulate populations in check. In this same circle of life, wolves help keep healthy the deer populations your father hunts and guides other folks to hunt. Wolves help keep your daddy in business and food on your table. Wolves play harmony in the music of the wild, and pepper the forests with magic and mystery. We would be less in the absence of wolves.

We Had Wolves

During the summer of 2008, the Lookout Pack in the Methow Valley, a mountain and river valley in north-central Washington I call home, was confirmed by WDFW as being the first wolf pack in Washington State since the 1930s. Some of us in the valley cheered! Some set traps, picked up guns, laced meet with arsenic and got busy. Shoot, shovel, shut up!

By 2010, the radio-collared alpha female was missing and presumed dead, nay poached.

Once numbering upwards of 10 or 11 individuals, the pack has now been diminished to two males, likely the old alpha and one of his sons. However, there has not been much proof of their continued existence over the past couple of months.

Thankfully, the ranching family who “got busy” is pretty dang stupid, and while you can’t shoot stupid, you can convict. Three area residents were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of killing several endangered Washington gray wolves: One family member tried sending a pelt to Canada and was caught when a shipping agent alerted authorities to a box leaking blood. Another emailed a relative in Alaska asking for help in trapping wolves, later emailing that he and others were hunting wolves near his property. In January 2009, he again sent an email claiming he and others shot two wolves in a group of nine, and one wolf in a group of three.

The ranch had not experienced any loss of livestock due to wolf predation and is being investigated on other charges of illegal hunting, e.g. deer out of season, hunting cougar with dogs, baiting beer.

So when Idaho Dave responded to my May blog post offering, “If you’d like, Idaho would be happy to share a few extras [wolves] with your area,” I only wish we could oblige…

Lookout Pack, 1 Year Pup. Photo: Conservation Northwest

Over the Mountain and Through the Woods

A bit farther south in the Cascade Range, another wolf pack has been found in the middle of a USFS allotment. The Smackout pack, as it is being referred, is small with an alpha female and male, and three pups. The alpha female weighs in at a whopping 65 pounds (who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?) and has DNA ties to the once thriving Lookout pack. Hope springs eternal.

Recommended Reading

• “Three Among the Wolves: A Couple and Their Dog Live a Year with Wolves in the Wild.” Helen Thayer, Copyright 2004, published by Sasquatch Books

• “Never Cry Wolf: Amazing True Story of Life Among Arctic Wolves.” Farley Mowat, Copyright 1963, published by Little, Brown and Company

• And this Guest Column Piece written for the Omak-Okanogan County (WA) Chronicle by Conservation Northwest’s Outreach Associate, Jay Kehne. Used here with Jay’s permission:

Many people in the Okanogan are talking about wolves since they returned to our county a couple years ago. If you believe everything that is being said about wolves at public meetings, coffee shops and on the internet, you may not be getting the whole story. You may have been fed a line.

Such is the case of the recent resolution by the Okanogan County Commissioners asking the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) to remove protections for the wolf. Its allegations are mostly unfounded, it will not succeed, and it will be remembered largely as a waste of energy and time. I predict that the WDFW will send Okanogan County a letter explaining the well-established biological and legal basis for protecting wolves as an endangered species in Washington. Then we will be right back where we started, needing to separate facts from myths about wolves so we can move forward and learn how to live with them. Take into consideration that the results of a recent poll show a whopping 70% of Washington residents support wolf recovery in our state.

As a friend, acquaintance and neighbor to many people in Okanogan County, I want to share information about wolves and help stop the unproductive and unfounded fear-based rumors, untruths and wild stories that are going around. Hear me out; I’d like to take them on one by one:

Wolves will infect us all with Echinococcus tape worm!  This tape worm is found in canines around the world, including dogs, coyotes, wolves and fox. The eggs of the tapeworm can spread to wild and domestic ungulates, like deer and sheep when infected canid feces are ingested. Ungulates also can give the tapeworm to canines when an infected ungulate is eaten. But people will not get tapeworms from eating infected deer, elk, or sheep. The Tapeworm can only be transmitted to humans that ingest infected canid feces. The risk of infection to humans remains infinitesimally small and certainly won’t change significantly because a few wolves are spread out over millions of acres of woods.

Gray wolves are not native to Washington! It is scientifically documented that wolves first migrated into Washington from the southern Great Plains about 10,000 years ago, and wolves were routinely observed and trapped by pioneers. With territories of over 350 square miles, and excellent dispersal capability, wolves have been wandering back and forth across the Canadian border for eons. Gray wolves living in Canada and Washington, were and are, all the same species. When wolves disappeared from Washington in the 1930s due to trapping, poisoning and hunting, the same gray wolf species still existed in Canada. And now these wolves have wandered back into Okanogan County. Same wolves, same species. In fact, recent research involving DNA from hundreds of wolves from Canada, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming found there is no genetic difference between them.

Supposedly there are sworn affidavits that people saw wolves being released in Okanogan County! I’m sure somebody saw something, but to believe these were wolves you’d have to ignore a whole lot of things. Even highly trained biologists and trappers need more than a quick sighting to verify a wolf. To verify a wolf you need pictures, photos of tracks, or DNA evidence to be sure what you “saw” wasn’t a wolf-dog hybrid, coyote, or some other big dog. People dump unwanted pets every week in our area. Think about it, who would have the skills, motives or funds to track wolves (most likely in Canada) trap them, dart them, transport them unnoticed across the border, and release them in our county? Not to mention the alleged sighting took place in 2005 and the signed affidavit didn’t appear until 2011?

We will have monster 200 lb wolves!  The Idaho Department of Fish and Game would beg to differ. Of the 188 wolves taken in the 2009 Idaho wolf hunt, the record weight was 127 lbs and the average was 95 lbs. The myth of monster wolves comes from “Little Red Riding Hood” and “The Three Little Pigs” children’s stories, not from reality. And the pictures of giant wolves you see on the internet … well, even Photoshop or a wide-angle camera lens can make the fish I catch look big!

But what about all the livestock loss because of wolves! Fortunately, there is good data on livestock predation. With 1,500 wolves in the Rockies and 3,000 in Minnesota, only 1% of cattle losses were due to predators. Of that 1% percent, coyotes accounted for 53%, domestic dogs 10% and wolves 4% of all predator losses. Neighbors’ dogs kill three times as much livestock as wolves! After the poaching of the Lookout Pack in the Methow, we only have two confirmed adult wolves in Okanogan County and a few scattered sightings of lone wolves. Even if Okanogan County’s wolf population grows to what experts expect (about 4-6 packs or 40-60 wolves), livestock losses will be extremely low. Let’s get proactive now so we can have plans in place to avoid wolf and livestock conflicts and funds to fully compensate ranchers if conflicts do occur.

Wolves will multiply to unmanageable numbers and overrun the county! Predator populations are self-regulating. Their numbers don’t grow beyond the natural prey base or the territorial space they need to occupy. Okanogan County only has enough physical space (territory) for a limited number of wolves, and they will kill other wolves and predators to defend their territory.

But what about us — wolves are known to attack and kill humans! This is where the facts can really help set aside irrational and unfounded fears. There is only one confirmed human life lost due to wolves in all of North America. For perspective, compare that to 34 fatal dog attacks in the USA in 2010 alone, and that 1,000 people are treated every day in the States for bites, maulings and attacks by dogs. Fear of wolves is not something to lose sleep over.

Wolves will decimate elk and deer herds! To really look at all the facts, research, and hunting statistics with an unbiased view, would take another whole article, which I would be glad to write. To get you thinking, 23 of Idaho’s 29 game management zones have elk numbers within or above management targets. With 150,000 elk, Montana is 14% over the state management objective, and Wyoming with 120,000 elk is 50% above objective. As an avid elk & deer hunter, I realize wolves change herd behavior. In order to remain successful, hunters will have to adapt, which in turn will make them better hunters.

To learn more about wolves, rancher compensation, wolf ungulate interactions and the basis for wolf recovery in Washington State go to: http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf/mgmt_plan.html and take a look at the Washington Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. You will be surprised in its thoroughness, fairness and balanced approach to the return of wolves in our state.

Jay Kehne is an avid hunter, backpacker, skier, wildlife advocate, and livestock owner, who makes his home with his family along the Okanogan River. He has degrees in Wildlife Biology and Soil Science from WSU. 

Some Good Sites

Joshua Tree’s Uprising Adventure Guides

Renacuajo Productions

Conservation NW

The Center for Biological Diversity

 

Roadtripping


Tricia and Bailey Blue
Tricia and Bailey Blue

The Kindness of Strangers

On my way to northwest Wyoming, I stopped over in Rock Creek, a bit east of Missoula. Rock Creek is a startlingly gorgeous narrow river valley, edged by steep slopes and popular to anglers. It is also embarrassingly known for its annual Testicle Festival. The latter being the reason I had not before ventured into this nook of the planet, instead passing by merrily and purposefully along I-90. I stopped at the Rock Creek Lodge for camping beta and was sent up the road about 12 miles to the Grizzly Campground, well off the beaten path and down a rocky, pothole-y, somewhat washed-out dirt spur.

On my way to Grizzly, I stopped across from an unlikely rock outcropping and slide area, snuggled up to a rustic cabin with a vegetable garden surrounded by prayer flags atop wire fencing. Beautiful. A mirage. Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep, all ewes, were eating the tender leaves and spring green grasses growing outside of the prayer-flagged garden. Some ewes climbed amongst the neighboring towering rock, their lambs running, nay veritably skipping, effortlessly up and down class-5+ scrambles. I turned off the engine and turned on the parking lights — I wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon and, although I was stopped in the middle of the narrow byway, I hadn’t seen another vehicle since turning off the interstate.

Two lambs were especially playful, following one another up and down the slides, mystically leaping uphill from one rock to another. I caught my breath in one hand and held my heart in the other as one lamb ventured the highest of all before becoming airborne, leaping several feet outward and downward, directly over its playmate below, continuing her frolic up and down and over and over and up and down, tirelessly.

As daylight was waning and I still needed to find Grizzly, I reluctantly started up the engine and continued down the road. Once at Grizzly and still feeling buzzed from the prayer flags and Bighorns, I promptly backed into a good-sized rock strategically hidden by an evil clump of salal. I pulled forward and heard a nauseating clunk with a metallic scraping sound. After taking a peek under the car, I ascertained that it looked about as bad as it sounded, with much of my exhaust system now resting slothfully on the pine needles and loam below.

Ray and Mike, camped with their wives a few sites down and just about the only other human souls in Grizzly, walked commandingly toward my car, their superhero capes blowing confidently in the fragrant valley breezes. After exchanging very few words, the two immortals promptly crawled under my car, assessed the situation, and returned to their campers for supplies: metal coat hangers and pliers. Their wives returned with them to watch and take pictures as 86-year-young Ray and his son-in-law Mike, crawled under my car and MacGyver’d up the exhaust system so that I could maybe make it to a shop a couple of days later (it was currently Saturday evening).

We sat by their campfire that night and jawed into the wee hours. In the morning, before both couples took off for home in Missoula, they invited me back over for cowboy coffee percolated on a grill set over low flames. Later, I ventured down the road — car guts staying in place over the bumps and boulders — and borrowed Deb’s phone at Trout Bums fly shop, to see about finding a mechanic. I scored zero, so, making lemonade, I returned to Grizzly, pulled on my hiking boots and found a trail for me and my dog Arrow. Tsunami and her old shepherd-mix hips, stayed back at the tent to watch for squirrels and chippies. Along the trail, I met Daniel, who was successfully hunting the season’s succulent morels. Found out Daniel lives in a cabin with a garden and prayer flags and itinerant ewes and lambs. Beautiful. A mirage.

Sonja, mere days before she turned genuine cowgirl (riding horses and chasing cows)
Sonja, mere days before she turned genuine cowgirl (riding horses and chasing cows)

Wringing It Dry

Monday, I successfully made it from Rock Creek to Idaho Falls with the coat hangers still holding up the car junk (blessings upon you, Ray and Mike). In Idaho Falls, I stopped at a tire shop asking for a muffler shop; they sent me up the road to a local’s. After waiting to be squeezed in, about an hour or so with my big dogs in a grassy park nearby, it took all of 25 minutes and a modest $87.50 to have my car made whole and back on the road to the Hoback and beyond. I arrived at Sonja’s that night, somewhere between Daniel and Big Piney, in the midst of sage-filled fields back-dropped by three glorious northwest Wyoming mountain ranges.

For my entire stay, Earl, god of weather, fouled our backcountry skiing and camping plans with bouts of snow and hail tempered by daily rain and lightning storms. A late-spring melt rendered the USFS roads navigable only a short distance from pavement. The best laid schemes of mice and women … Making lemonade, Sonja and I arose early each day to visit her horses in the neighboring field, followed by dayhikes in the Wind River, Hoback and Wyoming ranges before the weather would hit, as it did each day by noon or so. I slept out in Sonja’s horse trailer along with the two big dogs, as indeed her rented hillbilly shack is diminutive. Afternoons would find us lounging in the shack with books, or settled in at the GRB enjoying shots of single-malt whiskey and a draft of beer.

Whatever, Earl, we put our arses to the wind and we rode it out. We wrung it dry!

On a muddy USFS road up the Wind, Sonja and I hiked beside fresh BIG black bear tracks running parallel with wolf tracks laid around the same time. The wolf tracks were at least three times the size of Arrow’s — and he weighs in at nearly 90 pounds. No recent sign of human activity was present, besides the boot prints Sonja and I were putting down.

Sonja’s recipe for Indoors S’mores, the absolute pick-me-up for stormy weather and thwarted back-county travel plans:

Graham crackers

Chocolate bars

Marshmallows

Bamboo shish kabob sticks

Stove burner (electric or gas)

Whiskey

Skewer marshmallows onto kabob sticks and toast over a low burner. Sandwich hot and bubbling marshmallows between graham crackers and chocolate. Allow chocolate to melt before biting into the gooeycrunchy mess. Laugh and point at the marshmallow and chocolate speared on your friend’s lips and cheeks, knowing you are suffering the same indignity. Chase this simple, childhood treat with one or two grown-up shots of whiskey. You will find this surprisingly refreshing!

It had been 10 days, so I packed up the big dogs, turned my car west and headed north to home in the upper Methow (Met-how). Through Montana, I traveled into more lightning and jellyfish rainclouds, their rain tentacles stinging the rivers and creeks into swollen anaphylaxis. Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.

Frickin’ Fracking

Can’t we just leave things well enough alone? Don’t frack the Hoback!

'Til we meet again
'Til we meet again

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Good Sites

Vertical Girl 

Renacuajo Productions 

Conservation NW

The Center for Biological Diversity 

In the Shadow of Last Chance

Rain

1 June

It feels I have returned to Mother Rainforest, Grandpa Koma Kulshan towering over my right shoulder, cousin Nooksack at my feet. Rain. A gob of rain has been falling. Rain like the rain from clouds stacked against the west edge of the northern most peaks, peaks due east of clammy Puget Sound. I sit at the eastern toes of this same northern range. And while any clouds that make it up and over these mighty mountains drop their wet and wonderful bounty here on my head, it is not rainforest by any stretch of the imagination. On the East Slopes, the occasional grove of cedar clutches the earth near a river or spring, but predominantly our forests are of fir and pine, with punctuations of tamarack. The trees stand farther apart from one another and grow from ground all powdered sugar dry not long after snowmelt. Little moss and infrequent mud.

But I hail from rainforest, my roots wending and waning from there to here, while remaining planted in the mud and moss and dank of it all.

It is because of this season’s rain that I have been spending more time watching the window channel. (So simply and yet not so proudly, I have become a fair-weather trekker.) LGBs and resident squirrels are busily scattering seeds from the feeder, and I have spotted two red-headed woodpeckers on a few occasions. A gang of hummers sip the sweet nectar I brew for them, their tongues darting eagerly into the sugary mix.

On a recent dryer day, Susan joined me up here for trail run. I was all lope, lope lope, nose to the trail-stone, when I heard her sharp intake of breath and an excited, “Bear! “ Said bear quickly crossed the trail right in front of us, and I looked up just in time to catch sight of his ample two-year-old rump skedaddle into the brush. We must have scared up the sable-hued teddy from his pond-time down amongst the aspen. Quick, quick like a bunny, off tore my long-legged, long-tailed puppy, after the bear and out of site. “Shit!” was of course my first utterance before I called his name. Being the good dog that he is, Arrow quickly returned, much like a boomerang and straight as an arrow. And thankfully sans bruin. Susan and I were all giddy and grins for a while, like everyone is after a friendly bear encounter. Yes?

Soon I will be ROADTRIPPING (all one word, capitalized) to northwest Wyoming. There, the big dogs and I will explore the Gros Ventre Wilderness and the Hoback River, and visit Sonja. Some years ago, Sonja traded in her city life for a pair of faded jeans, a beat-up cowboy hat and a big truck. She has two horses in a sprawling, sage-filled field next to her rented shack. Sonja and I will head up to Jackson for a day and find a good cowboy bar (after all, cowboys are her weakness). I have never been to Wyoming. I will probably write about that next.

Crying Wolf

In response to my 1 May blog posting “On Being Pro Life (bio diversity),” Dave from Idaho writes:

“Many of us support biodiversity — but the wolf thing has gotten over the top. They are fully recovered and well beyond the goals for a sustainable population. On the other hand — we’ve gotten to where we see them in regularly in remote small town, We are loosing [sic] a large number of big game animals — esp. elk, and a few people pets (a friend’s dog). All I ask is some balance — we seem to have more than enough. If you’d like, Idaho would be happy to share a few extras with your area.”

It is apparent that Dave and I are on opposite sides of the wolf fence, and never the twain shall meet. As Dave writes from Idaho, I thought I would do a little look-see into their “over the top” wolf population. I stumbled across the Idaho Fish and Game’s Wolf Population Management Plan, 2008-2012, in which it is stated (I have added the bold): “Based on cause-specific mortality of radio collared elk in the Lolo Zone… wolf predation on cow elk is a significant factor in that population’s inability to stabilize or increase, particularly in Game Management Unit 12 (IDFG 2006). Similarly, wolf predation may be causing reductions in harvestable surplus in other areas, even if elk populations are not declining. Wolves are likely impacting behavior and habitat use of elk during hunting seasons, thus possibly reducing success rates for some hunters.”

It would appear, then, that while the Lolo Zone elk herds are presently neither stabilizing nor increasing and have indeed been on the decline, other zones in Idaho are merely exhibiting reductions in “harvestable surplus” and that elk behavior and habitat use may be making it more difficult for some hunters. This seems to be more of an issue for the hunter than it does for the elk. And as wolf populations often self regulate, at least partially in response to prey limitation, it is conceivable that left well enough alone even the Lolo Zone elk herd populations may subsequently stabilize.

Idaho Dave tells us that a friend lost a pet dog to wolf predation. I do not disagree that domestic dogs may be lost to wolves from time to time. No life is lived without risk. My cat  I.B. was taken by a coyote one dark and stormy night. And while I really loved that cat, I knew the coyote was hungry and just wanted dinner; it wasn’t anything personal. We, two cats, the big dog and I, lived in the woods by a mountain called Baker, and it was a bit wild around my cabin back then.

Remember too, that a mind-numbing number of dogs (and cats and other critters) are lost to human-caused neglect and abuse: Think Michael Vick, think Outdoor Adventures Whistler.

Interested in learning more about the delisting of wolves and predator control? Read these two recent articles in High Country News:

Wolf Whiplash, HCN May 30, 2011

Alaska’s ‘abundance management’, HCN February 21, 2011

Taking a Breath

Coffee is my morning lover, my morning ritual. An addiction. I boil water in an old grumpy teapot, pouring it into the press over cheerful, freshly ground beans. One cup with real cream in the morning, and maybe, just maybe, one more a little later on. Don’t deny me my steaming, aromatic potion. Coffee, baby, you always treat me right.

I also love lightning.

Lightning Takes a Stab

Lightning takes a stab at Last Chance Butte

and so I stand beneath heavy rain clouds

my face turned up into the heavy rain

my heart turning electric in my throat

my soul joining my electric heart

mouth open wide

arms open wide

I WAHOO! into the

CRACK! and the

ROLL! and the

hummmm.

 

Some Good Sites

Manitou Stone Beads

Renacuajo Productions

Conservation NW

The Center for Biological Diversity

Spring

1 May
Winter lasts so long up here, I sometimes forget there are other seasons. Down-valley spring beauties have already phased to glacier lilies, which are moving on to countless pots-of-gold arrowleaf balsamroot. Up here, the chilly loam is still holding its breath, mere clutches of courageous ’beauties are popping up in the slowly expanding tree wells. Ravens, beaks filled with the undercoat I have been brushing from my two big dogs, steal off to line their nests.
My wee abode sits at a lowly 2,300 feet of elevation, only about 500 feet higher than fourteen miles down-valley, where it is much more arid (and where it is already spring, as I have said). It is the proximity to the eastern toes of the North Cascades that dumps more winter here, in the land beyond Lost. And rain once it warms. But I am a rainforest girl at heart and diehard fan of winter, so this all sits well with me.

Up the Rendezvous Canyon, in the lingering snow bands behind Jason’s yurt, you can still see a few uphill Zs and downhill Ss from his late-season tours. From the Rendezvous toward Gunn Ranch, I take my first trail run of the season. Late April and enough of the way trail has melted out for a starter slog. I will turn around once the dirt and dead bunch grass ends and the snow begins in earnest. Each year around this time, I catch eyefuls of mountain bluebirds migrating through. They are an unlikely electric and blue my heart beat-beats when I spy them with eyes wide. Up and over the knoll and there they are! Tucked in the same bare and gnarled branches as they were the year before and the year before and the year before, and before that, too … nervously they scatter, and resettle not too far away.

A lifetime ago, my father gave me a Japanese print of an ethereal bluebird perched on a wintry branch. He also had this funny little thing he would say to me: “May the bluebird of happiness fly up your nose.” I think it was a play on an old Jimmy Dicks country song. My father was a West Point graduate and an officer in the Green Beret, who had a goofy sense of humor and a broken yet gentle soul. My dear old dad didn’t make it past 70 and after he passed, for me bluebirds came to signify him. When I spy them in the greening hills, all brilliant blue and other-worldly, I know my father is nearby, flying free and beautiful and it is magic.

On Being Pro-Life
Let me make this perfectly clear: I believe in a woman’s Right to Choose, so this is not about that. This is about biodiversity. This is about wolves. This is about being pissed the hell off.

A federal budget bill rider authored by Senators Tester, D-Montana, and Simpson, R-Idaho, has severely compromised the Endangered Species Act, endangering the health of ecosystems, and endangering wolf populations.
In a statement from the Center for Biological Diversity, “[The rider] removes wolves in Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Utah from the federal endangered species list and sets the stage for near-term delisting in Wyoming. The rider bans citizens from challenging the wolf delisting decision while preserving anti-wolf litigation brought by the state of Wyoming and others.”

There are solid reasons why a bunch of government dough and effort were spent to restore Northern Rockies wolves: Restoring healthy populations of wolves here has resulted in healthier ungulate herds by keeping their populations viable. Riparian areas, and thus fish spawning grounds, are becoming healthier too, as deciduous tree growth is returning, having been over-browsed. We are quite simply peril-yzing an entire ecosystem.

I don’t get this deep-seated fear and loathing of large predators. Why must we always sit at the tippy-top the food chain, dizzily attempting to control all things wild? Why must we artificially increase elk herd populations, by example, to the detriment of the herd’s and surrounding ecosystem’s health? It is merely for the so-called sport of an easier hunt (subsistence hunting aside), and the ability to run domestic herds unfenced and on public lands without incident?
I am pro-life! I am against the abortion of biodiversity!

Taking a Breath
I am still lighting fires in the woodstove. Although sometimes just one in the morning and maybe another around suppertime is enough.

Watching the Cat

I am watching the cat
the cat stretched out long
right up close to the woodstove
Satisfied just to be warm

Some Good Sites

Conservation NW
The Center for Biological Diversity
Renacuajo Productions
The Daily Coyote

Eating Wolf

I have stopped at the top long enough to rip the skins from my skis, taking breaths more slowly now than the ones I stopped counting on the way up. The even, heavy cadence of my breathing as I lay down a fresh up-track is addictive. The exhale louder, more pronounced, than the inhale. The short, quiet space in between each breath. The solid and unexpectedly slow and deep pound, pound of my heart. Opium.
Shush, click.
Shush, click.
Shush, click.

From pull-off to top. Ski sliding against the micro-topography of snow. Shush. Heel striking down, binding against binding. Click. And then the other ski, shush, and then the other heel, click. Shush, click, back and forth, one and then the other,
all
the
way
up.

From the top, I lock my heels, turn my toes to the tall trees below. If I am lucky, I will float. The snow is better here. Soon the trees will disappear and all that remains will be the narrow spaces in between. And the cold air I am breathing. My exhale louder, more pronounced than my inhale. The short, quiet space in between each breath. My heart now in my ears.

Some of my turns are snaked and some are kicked, as I work my way down through the maze of in-between …

I pop out on the north side, on another mountain, laying fresh tracks with my Wolfdog. Snow makes him high and it is absolutely everywhere. The peaks go on up into Canada from here, and then they keep going on up from there. It is enough to make me dizzy and so we keep on going higher. The Wolfdog is grinning big, his pink tongue extended out long, like his long, long legs. He is running beyond fast, all four paws airborne at once. He is flying.

My heart is pounding and it grows wings and flies right on out of my chest. There is no other way to put this: I am so goddamn, unbelievably happy. And the mountains are so goddamn, unbelievably beautiful. I holler a WAHOO!  And I know, just know, that this is one of the best times of my life, and I do not ever want it to stop.

But it does stop, much later on. This time will roll into the next, and there will be other amazing times, but not one as goddamn, unbelievably beautiful as this one, when I am so unspeakably happy and my heart and my Wolfdog are both flying through the snow straight out ahead of me. Free.

And I was right as rain about all of that …

I snake out one last turn onto an east slope, and a lot of time has passed. Skins are back on my skis and I carry my Wolfdog in an old and battered Nalgene tucked in my pack. We both drank water from that beat-up bottle and it seemed like a good place to keep his ashes.

The puppy keeps right up with me, following close behind in the up-track, without stepping on the backs of my skis. He is a similar mix as my Wolfdog was, but I don’t see my Wolfdog when I look at him, and for this I am grateful. We top out at the frozen lake and find the perfect spot for a handful of my best friend’s ashes. Here, there are three ponderosa pines, a view of the lake and craggy ridgeline.

I pull off my pack and pull out the Nalgene. My heart is breaking, just as it does every day now. I unscrew the lid and pour some of my Wolfdog’s ashes into my naked, outstretched hand. The sun is low, the air still. Gently I shake the ashes from my hand and they land gracefully near the three ponderosas. The puppy, I call him Arrow, bounds over, taking a big bite of snow, and of Wolfie’s ashes.

I am kneeling in the snow, feeling a little stunned. Through my tears, I smile at Arrow, touching my tongue to the palm of my hand where some of Wolfie’s ashes remain.

It is time to ski down, before we lose any more daylight. My long-legged puppy stays just ahead of me and off to the side, keeping his amber eyes on my turns, brilliantly steering clear of my skis, yipping at me to go faster, faster, faster PLEASE! He is a good dog. He has a tough act to follow.

It will not stop hurting, but I will become accustomed to the hurt, the sharp intake of breath, the breath held until I absolutely have to let it go and take another one. Down at the bottom, I squeeze my hands into fists and press them against my chest and then against my eyes. I do not want this good pain to go away. Ever. I will hold onto it as if my life depends on it. I think my life does depend on it. And if I am lucky, I will float …

Tricia M. Cook writes from a wee hamlet snuggled into the eastern toes of the North Cascade Mountains. There, she is accompanied by her two big dogs and two small cats, and various forest creatures.