Brenda Peterson calls her book “a narrative of restoration science” in which “generational prejudice yielding to new ways of living with wild wolves.”
“Wolf Nation — The Life, Death, and Return of Wild American Wolves”
by Brenda Peterson
Da Capo Press, $27, 292 pages
Readers of “Wolf Nation” might be shocked to learn that as a long-term Department of the Interior project was successfully reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone National Park, the USDA Wildlife Services killed more than 3 million animals in 2015. Among them, Seattle author/conservationist Brenda Peterson notes, were coyotes, bears, cougars, foxes, bobcats, prairie dogs, beavers and almost 70,000 wolves.
Since its inception in 1885, Peterson explains, Wildlife Services’ goal has been to protect cattle and sheep primarily in the West from predation. Much of this livestock grazes on public lands where it fends for itself. Ranchers pay a small price for such allotments and traditionally have expected government protection, shifting costs to the public while accepting little responsibility for their herds’ safety.
The author of “Wolf Nation” will appear with Amaroq Weiss, the West Coast wolf organizer for San Francisco’s Center for Biological Diversity, to talk about the successes and challenges of wolf recovery in the Northwest. 7 p.m. Thursday, May 4, at Elliott Bay Book Co., 1521 10th Ave., Seattle (206-624-6600 or elliottbaybook.com).
An additional reason she cites for eliminating predators was to increase numbers in desired species such as deer and elk targeted by hunters, another powerful lobby expecting government intervention.
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But as Peterson chronicles, inflicting near extinction of wolves caused more problems than it solved. In Yellowstone, for example, deer and elk multiplied unchecked, overgrazing the land and destroying riparian zones, trampling and eating young trees and bushes so that erosion runoff clogged rivers, affecting both fish and other creatures.
“As it turns out,” Peterson states, “wolves are perhaps the best wildlife and habitat managers of all.” It has taken almost a century to appreciate their function as a keystone species, that is, one that plays a critical role in maintaining ecological balance in a community.
They don’t generally kill more than they can eat and their reproductive rate, scientists have learned, depends on current local resources. In lean times, wolves may have no pups.
During the past two decades, Peterson has been involved with restoring wolves to their home ranges and, thereby, re-establishing healthy environments. She calls her book “a narrative of restoration science” in which “generational prejudice [is] yielding to new ways of living with wild wolves.”
“Wolf Nation” describes her travels to conferences and interviews with researchers as gradually changing factions seek ways to coexist. Ranchers have begun taking a more active part, clearing away carcasses instead of leaving them, and using dogs, loud noises and range riders to frighten away predators.
Some wolves wear collars that emit signals to alert ranchers when a pack is nearby so livestock can be moved or protection stepped up. In Idaho’s Wood River Wolf Project, Peterson states, nonlethal preventive measures for 15,000 to 25,000 sheep resulted in only 30 wolf kills in nine years.
Progress is slow, with many setbacks. Peterson notes that wolves protected under the Endangered Species Act face delisting, culling and poaching in many states. But she includes more hopeful stories, too, such as one about Washington state’s Wolf Haven, which recently supplied a small family to New Mexico. She writes about Yellowstone’s famous female named 06, who led her pack for many years, and a male called Journey, who traveled 1,200 miles solo from Idaho to live on the Oregon/California border.
National polls show a majority of Americans favor wolf reintroduction. “Instead of more … wolf control,” Peterson writes, “We need more self-control.”