Decade of the Wolf

The Wolf: For & Against
By Douglas W. Smith & Gary Ferguson
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Gray wolves hunting, Yellowstone
Remarkable team-hunting to bring home dinner (Photo © Douglas W. Smith)

Even today, at the very time thousands of people are coming from all over the world for a chance to glimpse the wild wolves of Yellowstone, individuals in northwest Wyoming are lacing hot dogs with powerful poisons like 1080 and Temik in an attempt to kill the animals, instead killing dozens of beloved pets. Since the first wolves walked free again in Yellowstone in 1995 at least 30 have been illegally killed in the immediate area. Web sites have sprung up coaching viewers on how to destroy wolves. In central Idaho, also part of the 1995 reintroduction project, one biologist gave a dire description of a recent flurry of criminal poaching there: "Hunting season has arrived, and the wolves in Idaho are dropping like flies." Much as in the Middle Ages, when the wolf was touted by church leaders as proof of Satan walking the earth, in this day and age there are some who would infuse it with yet another kind of symbolic power, one having to do with a fierce hatred for the land management policies of the federal government.

Some frustrated with the wolf have suggested that, given the increasing demand on western landscapes, we should manage Yellowstone more as a game farm, an outdoor zoo, fencing in or otherwise controlling those species that get into trouble now and then outside the park. But in a very real sense such a move would hobble us, as well. As even Sigmund Freud pointed out—and clearly, Sigmund was no nature boy—wild preserves and the creatures that occupy them can be just as important to a culture's mental health as fantasy is to an individual; remove either one, he seemed to say, and neurosis will follow. By piquing our imaginations, by sparking in us a sense of wonder, Yellowstone's wolves have done much to invigorate our sense of place, even our sense of generosity, rekindling relationships that allow us to again feel at home in the world.

About the Authors: Douglas Smith, the Wolf Project leader, has studied wolves for 24 years and has worked on the reintroduction effort in Yellowstone since its inception. He lives in Gardiner, Montana.

Gary Ferguson is an award-winning nature writer whose books include The Yellowstone Wolves and Hawks Nest: A Season in the Remote Heart of Yellowstone. He has written for publications including Vanity Fair, Outside, and Men's Journal. He lives in Red Lodge, Montana.

Published: 21 Mar 2005 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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