Decade of the Wolf

Looking Back, Looking Forward
By Douglas W. Smith & Gary Ferguson
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Gray wolves hunting, Yellowstone
One of nature's most prolific hunters, man is the wolf's biggest threat (Photo © Douglas W. Smith)

In short, the 20th century saw astonishing changes in the world of wolves. From roughly 1900 to 1950 there was a mantra common even among land managers, declaring the only good wolf to be a dead one. That notion, combined with increasingly efficient technology, led to a brand of wholesale extirpation never before seen anywhere on the continent. The killing fever finally spent, wolves received a break for a time, able to reclaim in the 1960s and 1970s at least some of the ground previously lost—this, until concerns by hunters and livestock producers started the guns firing again, this time mostly from the open doors of helicopters.

In the 1980s and 1990s came recovery—the gray wolf in Michigan and Wisconsin, the red wolf in North Carolina, the Mexican wolf in New Mexico. Then finally here in Yellowstone, some 70 years after the last wolf was killed in the Lamar Valley. Today the world's first national park—some say America's best idea ever—is again feeling the footsteps of wolf packs, again resounding with their soulful howls. In this protected space the wolf will prove himself a survivor extraordinaire, one that will hopefully remain a part of this wonderful web of life for centuries to come. For those of us who've been here watching and listening, it's been one of the most enthralling decades of our lives.

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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