I’m Still Here

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I’ve had plenty of encounters with wildlife and I value everyone of them that I’ve had.  There are “encounters” and then there are those special moments that you will never forget.  Ones that stick with you and years later you can recount the entire moment second by second.  Those kinds of encounters are the ones that will change your life and sadly they don’t happen as often as some of us wish they would.

May 2014

I thought I saw something on the way back to town, the night before there had been a gorgeous cinnamon black bear in that area and I was hoping that I might see him again.  I was scanning the hillside, driving slowly and I thought I saw something so I stopped.  I was actually in disbelief; there you were starring right at me, down at me, right into my eyes.  You didn’t move and neither did I.  I wasn’t even sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing because you were backlit by the sun and were actually glowing.  The sun through your coat was on fire and outlining your body.  I was afraid to breath much less move for fear you would vanish or I would wake myself up and I wasn’t sure I wanted to wake up.  The girls in the car with me kept asking what I saw and I was afraid to say anything because if they didn’t see you then I would know that I was dreaming.  I finally whispered to them that you were there and they both saw you at the same time.  I was on the wrong side of the vehicle to do anything and told them it was up to them to get the photos because I knew the moment I moved you would disappear.  Sure enough you did but the girls managed to get a few images, none of them were ones to brag about but we could see you in them and that was all that mattered.

You were gone.  I tried to follow you but you had vanished just as quick as I saw you and not even a print left behind.  I heard your message, it was clear, but at the time I wasn’t sure what it meant.  There was no urgency in your movements, your eyes never left mine until you turned to walk away.  The moment was familiar.

We quickly discussed that this moment was ours and we wouldn’t share specifics with anyone.  We didn’t want you pursued and hounded like the others.  Once we got more information we found that you weren’t listed so we decided the next day if given the opportunity we would ask an expert; although the images weren’t the best the expert said they didn’t know you, hadn’t seen you.  That was enough for us.

Your message still didn’t become clear until talking to a friend of mine a few weeks later.  She reminded me of a few things from before and it made sense.  I’ve thought about that moment over and over again since then especially when things start to fall into place.  Your right, things are going to be okay, your still here.

I should be excited as there is good news coming from the valley.  Most of my heart is very excited however I’m also concerned.  Part of the reason I hesitate to talk about this special encounter is because I want her to have peace.  I want her to be allowed to live wild, be herself without being pursued and followed.  Do I want to know she is okay, how she is and where?  More than anything, but at what cost?  It’s not worth the price.  I also know that we, as photographers and advocates, set examples.  If onlookers with less experience and a lot of excitement witness our behavior or hear about something we do because we wanted a closer look and even if we are granted permission it now sets an example that it is okay for them to do so as well.  Eventually all the attempts to catch a glimpse, get an image, causes these animals to change their behavior, causes them to move away.  Where will they move to?  Possibly in a direction that can bring them great harm.  Or even worse, we habituate them, we leave footprints on them because they are young and either it costs them their lives because they approach people and it’s threatening, or worse, they become trusting and allow the wrong person in too close because they have lost the natural fear they were born with.

I have been following you since 1995 and in 2009 my dreams finally came true.  I have planned numerous trips around you because I would love to have the opportunity to see you again however in 2010 I learned how destructive people’s love of you can be.  It puts you in a very dangerous situation in many different ways.  Those are situations that I do not want to be responsible for nor a part of.  I decided if I were blessed enough to be chosen by you that you would present yourself to me and then I would cherish that moment forever.  I’ve been chosen twice now and I remember every second of these moments and I’m happy to say they were on your terms without incident and un-noticed.  I’ve had plenty of other encounters with you that have torn at my heart because of the behavior of others, people who care about you too but don’t realize how much influence their behavior has on you and those encounters only bring me sorrow.

I learned long ago to trust you, the messages you have delivered have come to be each time.  I trust it will be this way again.

Your still here.

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Thank You For The Lessons

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I’ve been so busy the past 7 to 8 months that I haven’t even had time to think about this blog that I started; the horse show photography has taken off, new adventures have come along, more animals have crashed my barn and so much more.  We are gearing up for another wonderful trip and really looking forward to the wildlife, the hiking, the friendships new and old and the adventures.

This has been a relatively hard week for me, it’s been a year now since you’ve been gone.  They say time heals but I’m not so sure that is true.  I think about you nearly every day, I share your stories and the wonderful things you taught me, I think of all the things that I’ve accomplished this year and I want to share them with you but I can’t.  On the other hand I know that you know all that has gone on and I know you’re proud – if not for you none of this would be possible.

I received a message about somebody commenting on my blog a couple weeks ago.  The things he said about wolves were far from nice but then again he’s entitled to his opinion.  I have to say I think it’s a bit funny.  For one thing, you know absolutely nothing about me or who I am.  And it’s people like you who continue to make finding a solution impossible; rather than being a real man and discussing things and seeing both sides you choose to make rude jabs.  For all you know I could be your neighbor, your neighbor’s girlfriend or wife, one of your friend’s girlfriend or wife or the person who saves your life one day.  Your quick to make your comments and run without even knowing anything about me and it’s funny, I’m not much different than you.  Well, I’m not rude or disrespectful and I’m not afraid to have a civilized conversation with “the other side” so with that we are totally different.

My grandparents who I spent a lot of time with owned a sporting goods store and gun range.  Oh my!!  Yes we not only supported hunters, but we also hunted.  We didn’t hunt for sport, the pure joy of killing or out of hatred – we hunted to put food on the table.  My parents taught me how to raise livestock and I still do.  Oh no!  I eat meat.  I can rope, ride and train colts.  I’m not afraid to grab a calf and push them into a chute and I have a great respect for that calf’s momma.  I’ve probably cleaned more pens and barns with my own two hands than most.

I’ve read the comments about how “city folk” don’t know crap about how you “real ranchers” live and need to quit interfering.  Well, I’m not a city slicker and I’m not a stranger to getting dirty and hard work.  I’ve been kicked at, kicked, stepped on, shoved aside, nearly ran over and bucked off with some of the best.  I didn’t go to college but I did finish high school and one of the things my dad taught me was is if I worked hard enough, treated people with respect, was honest and had integrity I’d climb my way to the top.  I’ve done that with 2 of my own businesses as well as the company I work for and call my “real job.”  And when I’m done there I still come home to the ranch and do my chores here.  I’ve stayed up with the sick ones and bottle fed the orphans while many walk away to let “nature take it’s course.”   Personally I think that’s an excuse for people to be lazy and not take responsibility.

I’d be willing to bet I can out shoot you with a revolver or a rifle any day, however I don’t shoot at live animals unless they have brought it upon themselves to harm my animals.  It’s a good thing that I take protective measures before I need to resort to this, that is called “ranch management.”  It’s not about tossing animals out onto green grass and hoping they reproduce, it’s about being responsible and foreseeing the future and what it takes to be profitable without assistance from the government.

My dad fought for your freedom and then came home and continued to “protect and serve” you.  That was another thing he taught me; when a person needs help regardless of who they are or how you feel about them you reach out to help them.  Might be something you might want to think about the next time your so quick to be rude and disrespectful to somebody you don’t know just because they support wolves and grizzlies being on the Endangered Species List and mustangs being left correctly managed on BLM land where they belong.  It would be horrible for one of us “city folk” to drive by you if your buddy shot you in the hip during one of your hunting trips on accident and waved as we drove on by just because we judged you as one of them “horrible, wolf hating ranchers” rather than a human being in need of emergency assistance.  I’m entitled to my opinion just as you’re entitled to yours; neither of them are any less important than the other.  I’m not that much different than you are sir.  I’ve busted my butt to get where I am today and to have the things I have.  I have seen and taken care of things that would make your stomach turn.  Thank God the people in my life have taught me about respect, courtesy and compassion not only for human beings but the animals we share this land with.  I was also taught to stand for the things I believe in and to do it in the right way and I will continue to do so.

So thank you for sharing your story by commenting on my blog the other day.  You have taught me even more very important lessons and I really appreciate it.  I’m more determined now to continue fighting for what I know is right.  The next time you are driving down the dirt road and you pass a white Dodge dually with a woman driving and she waves; that’s me telling you thank you!

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Legacy

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The young black pup woke up and hazily looked around, stretched as long as the small den would allow her to and yawned big. She slowly turned around, wondering where everyone else was and poked her nose outside. She missed her little sister; she had disappeared a few weeks ago leaving her nobody to play with that was the same size she was. Her uncle did a great job trying to keep her entertained but it wasn’t the same.

The sun shined bright outside and made the colors of the trees seem to be a brighter green. She laid back down with her front feet crossed, her head up, taking in all the sights around her. Below in a stand of aspen trees stood a small herd of elk enjoying the mid day shade that the trees provided. She turned her head a bit to the side and lifted her ears higher; in the distance she could hear the small gurgle of a stream as the water rolled over the rocks, rolling some of the smaller ones farther down the hill. In a nearby pine tree there were a couple magpies squawking at each other and every now and then they would turn and watch the pup for a few seconds before they went back to bickering at each other.

All her senses had become much stronger the past couple of weeks and she had grown so much bigger and stronger – she wished that she could go with her parents and the other adults when they left her protected area. Her parents told her she was still too small but soon she’d be allowed. Until then she was not to leave this little meadow that was a safe haven, a meeting spot where they would return with whatever elk or bison meat they were able to take down in a hunt over the past few days. Her little tummy growled; somebody would surely be returning soon with lunch.

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A chipmunk darted out from behind where the pup was laying and ran over to a fallen pine tree that was starting to become part of the earth it originally came from. She wasn’t allowed to leave the safe meadow but while she was waiting for the others to return she could explore and today she wanted to see if she could catch that chipmunk! She bounded out of the den, her legs longer and gangly didn’t always do what she wanted them to and she tripped a couple times as she ran to the log. Just as she reached the log the chipmunk dived down in a small hole on the other side of the log into the soft dirt and pine chips. The black pup quickly went to digging, determined not to let the chipmunk get away. After a few minutes the hole had been excavated but no chipmunk appeared so the pup walked to the other side of the log to see if there was another escape route.

Just below the ridge on the hillside across from the site sat a large black shadow blending in with the shadows of the rocks and trees. It was up wind so the pup couldn’t smell what casted the shadow that was watching her. The shadow belonged to her black uncle who had recently returned home to the valley he had grown up in with several other brothers and sisters. He had spent the past 6 months trying to find his mother who had disappeared when they had gone out on a hunt; when she didn’t return to the pack after a few days his sisters, brothers and father had spread out searching for her. He had found her scent at one point and spent so much time howling for her and hoping she would return. As each day passed without her return he became lonelier and decided to return home hoping to find the rest of his pack.

When he arrived back in the valley he was greeted with happy howls of his black and light grey sisters. There was also a new large grey in the valley now and the small pack was excited to welcome him back as there were two new pups to raise. Since his return one of the pups had disappeared causing them to be more watchful and protective over the remaining pup he was watching. He sunk down low when he heard a noise in the brush behind him; he knew better than not to be vigilant but had been so intent to

watch as the black pup explored and developed her hunting skills. The pup was smart and quick; she was growing every day and becoming more and more pretty. He quickly lay down and melted into the rocks and slowed his breathing, his lip curled as he could hear the padding of paws coming closer, unsure if it might be a bear that was after the pup or another who did not belong here that wanted to bring harm.

Over the top of the hill came another black figure at a nice long trot, in her mouth was the leg of a bison calf. As she got closer he realized it was his sister and he stood up, his head level with his shoulders and his tail wagging side to side. When she got to him she dropped the bison leg at his feet and greeted him, proud of what she was bringing back yet once again. For the past several months this young black female had been helping in the hunts and right after she would eat her fill she would grab a large remaining piece and run back over several miles back to the den to bring the pups food. For awhile it was mostly her running food back and forth while one of the parents watched over the pups, but when her brother returned home he took on the responsibility of pup sitting and training making it easier for the rest of the pack to leave to hunt. She worked hard for her size; she was smaller than the grey wolves in the pack and leaner. However nobody doubted her strength or her loyalty to the pack. She was every bit as strong and determined as her mother was to see to it that this family survived.

The male picked up the bison leg and headed down the hill, the female traveled right behind him only stopping for a moment to get a drink of water from the small creek. Below the site on the other side of the creek two grey shadows appeared and stopped for a moment as they saw the black male and female heading to the safe haven meadow as well. The female put her nose up and let out a long, low howl. The black pup stopped her chipmunk chase and suddenly looked around, excited that her family was coming home! Her tummy was growling and she wanted to play. Seeing her mother a little below the meadow at the base of the hill, her tail started swaying side to side very quickly and she let out the happiest, highest howl she could find………….

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She’s the daughter of a grey daughter of ’06, the Queen of Lamar Valley.

She’s the niece of the black son and daughter of ’06; Spitfire and Prince, the son and daughter of ’06, the Queen of Lamar Valley.

She’s the hope for the people that love the wolves and the Queen of Lamar Valley.

She’s part of a Legacy, the Legacy of the Queen of Lamar Valley, ’06.

Hear the Legacy howl.

I Was Here

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I Was Here

You won’t notice me, I’ll be leaving my mark, Like intials carved in an old oak tree, You wait and see.  Maybe I’ll write like Twain wrote, Maybe I’ll paint like VanGough, Cure the common cold, I don’t know.  But I’m ready to start cause, I know in my heart, I wanna do something that matters.  Say something different.  Something that sets the whole world on it’s        here I wanna do something better.  With the time I’ve been given.  And I wanna try to touch a few hearts in this life.  Leave nothing less than, Something that says I was here, I will prove you wrong, If you think I’m all talk you’re in for a shock, Cause this drink’s too strong And before too long, Maybe I’ll compose symphonies.  Maybe I’ll fight for world peace, Cause I know it’s my destiny, To leave more than a trace of myself in this place.  I wanna do something that matters.  Say something different.    Something that sets the whole world on it’s here     I wanna do something better,  With the time I’ve been given,  And I wanna try to touch a few hearts in this life,  Leave nothing less than,  Something that says I was here,  And I know that I,  I will do more than just pass through this life.    I leave nothing less than something that says I was here, I was here (I was here) I was here.   Wanna do something that matters, something that says I was here

Wanna do something that matters, something that says I was here I was here

Songwriter(s): Gary Burr, Hillary Scott, Victoria Shaw, Hillary Dawn Scott

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Fight for Wolves………….

2382I was really happy when I saw that another very active wolf supporting Facebook page shared my blog last week. It really helps keep me inspired and motivated and it lets me know that the work I want to do has not been for nothing. Due to last year’s wolf hunt and the loss of several of our valuable Yellowstone wolves in addition to wolves that we don’t know personally I made the decision last week not to share posts or images that give current locations of the Yellowstone or Grand Teton packs. I have to say that I believe that by the time we get that information and it is shared the wolves have moved on and are no longer there but it is just something that concerns me a bit. I also believe that the murderers who are after the Yellowstone wolves most likely know their location far better than we do and that the way they are choosing to hunt is not a sport; shooting an animal that has become habituated to people and lost fear of them is not a challenge and therefore not “hunting.”

Yesterday I received a message that a wolf hating Facebook group had gotten the support of the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) and that the PBR would be placing their stickers of hatred on the PBR trucks. I know many bull riders and rodeo people and I thought this was an odd thing for the PBR to be a part of. That’s a pretty large association for a small group of hateful people to claim to be a part of so I contacted PBR and asked. I was relieved to receive a quick response that confirmed what I thought and PBR is in the process of having that mis-informed statement made by that group removed. I have to say thank you to PBR. I can understand individuals having their own thoughts and opinions and that is their right but for an association like PBR to take that stance I was a bit concerned.

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Knowing that group has mis-informed the people that follow them makes me wonder what else that group has been mis-informing people about where wolves are concerned. I really believe if you are going to take a stand on an issue that you need to do your own research and seek your own knowledge and not be led by a group who is doing something based on hatred and spite. I do my best not to speak about something unless it’s a topic I know a lot about, something I’m passionate about and have done my own research to learn about; both the goods and the bads. If this group is willing to be dishonest about something like a large association supporting them what else have they mis-informed people about? That is really something important to think about.

Out of curiosity I visited their Facebook page and website; it is full of wolf hating products and comments which is what I expected. I was hoping to find a first and last name of the person behind it but it only had a first name so that I couldn’t find out any further information on them, that didn’t surprise me either. Of course the page goes on about elk hunting in Idaho and how the wolves are responsible for the population of elk declining since they were reintroduced; blah, blah and blah. I wonder if these same people believe that what the elk herds have done to the ecosystem in the Rocky Mountain National Park is okay and how much longer these herds will have food and will stay healthy when there are really no predators within the park to manage it? It isn’t a secret that there is already a serious problem and yet the park is hesitant to reintroduce wolves here and at the same time the public freaks out when the word “hunting” is tossed out. At the rate the elk population is growing it is obvious that something needs to be done it just depends on what makes more sense and sits better with the people. Keep in mind when the herds start to die of starvation or disease the blame will be placed on the ones who were not allowed to make a decision and no decision was acceptable.

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I visited Rocky Mountain National Park last week; I went moose hunting. I have to say I understand the adrenaline rush that hunters get and the excitement they feel when they find that big bull elk they are looking for. When I found the big bull moose I was looking for I was pretty excited, I took a few shots but sadly the willows were in the way and I missed the shot I was looking for. Then I realized I was surrounded by about 20 other people all trying to get that shot too and the excitement quickly ran out; this moose was habituated to people and really there was no challenge. I decided to leave and try to find a big bull who was more of a challenge. A little later while hiking I got the shot I’ve been wanting for awhile; my blood was racing, my heart pounding! I raised my arms for the shot! It was right there in a green open meadow, walking across, stopping occasionally on its way to a stream. It doesn’t get any better than this. It was so quiet and peaceful. Once it crossed the meadow I could barely stand still! This was going to be a winning shot. I quickly looked around and there was nobody there. This was perfect. When it jumped off the embankment and into the water my heart lept into my throat and I took the shot. Now it was a fair hunt; this moose was not habituated to people, wasn’t posing and was more of a challenge.

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Thank you Legend of Lamar Valley

You ever have one of those weeks where when somebody says that “God only gives you what you can handle” makes you want to scream that God needs to find somebody else to pick on? I’ve had about 3 of those months now back to back. I really had to wonder what God was thinking when my father passed away in April; really!? Enough was enough. I’m more than happy to share the stage with somebody else. Add that to everything else that has been going on and saying I’ve had writer’s block is putting it very gently. Things have slowly been coming back around, and I do mean slowly. I’ve sat and stared at a blank paper for weeks now and nothing has come to me.

A couple of good friends and I took off to Yellowstone and the Tetons in May; a trip filled with mixed emotions but it is where I go to heal, a place my dad shared with me when I was a teenager, a place I love and a place I consider home. We had the trip of a lifetime. To say we saw wildlife is an understatement. Our days were filled with moose, grizzly and black bears, cubs, badgers, coyotes, bison calves, wild horses and most importantly……………wolves. I’m not sure what the reasons were behind such an amazing trip but we left feeling like three of the most blessed people on the planet. They had never been to the parks before, never seen wildlife like this and seeing the expressions and being able to share stories about these wonderful animals in the parks was wonderful.

A couple of days before we left the important, heart breaking news was the report of Daddy’s Girl (831F) being murdered by Bill Hoppe in Gardiner. I’m sorry if you feel “murder” is too strong a word to use but it’s true. Anyone who would knowingly leave out decaying animals in an area close to a national park known for grizzly bears and wolves so close to a tourist area is either a complete idiot or he knows exactly what he was wanting to do and how to do it. The fact that he forfeited the second permit he had was most likely simply because it occurred to him what he had just done to his business; after all it is mostly tourist money that sustains businesses in that area and most tourists there year round are there for one thing – to see wolves. I hate math, not a strong talent of mine, but even I can add this up.

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Daddy’s Girl (831F)was a Yellowstone radio collared wolf, I think it is safe to say that the biologists and wolf supporters know more about these wolves than most parent’s know about their teenage children. The data from the radio collar showed that she was nowhere near his livestock the night they were killed and since Mr. Hoppe decided to leave decaying carcasses lying around during some unseasonably warm weather pretty much promises that anything that eats meat, including domestic dogs, were sure to become curious and come around. If this isn’t “baiting” than it is irresponsible livestock management. Not only does it attract predators who have behaved like this in this area for hundreds of years longer than Mr. Hoppe has resided there, but it is also a breeding ground for disease which no responsible rancher would want to subject their healthy livestock to. Sadly Daddy’s Girl was in the wrong place at the wrong time, brought out by natural instincts to check on a decaying carcass where Mr. Hoppe had declared that anything resembling a canine was guilty and he murdered her. Lucky for his neighbors their family dogs weren’t out roaming that night or they would have been the guilty party.

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Hearing this news a couple of days before leaving on our trip was heart breaking. After seeing several images of her that photographers and wolf supporters posted I became very concerned that it was the wolf that I had encountered that changed my life a couple of years ago. I contacted several friends of mine and after doing some research we concluded that the wolf I knew was 831F’s sister, a year older. I was a bit relieved however it was short-lived. One evening we were on our way back to town when the Blacktail Pack was spotted. We watched them for over an hour, into dark, and we met a supporter who has done a lot of research on Yellowstone wolves over the years. We stood and chatted with Barbara once the Blacktail Pack left the area for a long time; out of the 60 or so remaining wolves in the park now only 27 are what they consider “visible” wolves. The remaining wolves are in remote sections of the park and seldom seen or noticed. To some that may not sound alarming but here is some additional information; Yellowstone is over 22 million acres. Place 27 wolves inside the park and calculate what sort of chance you have in being able to see a wolf. When there were over 200 wolves within the park boundaries the odds were greatly stacked against seeing wolves 3 years ago, now your chances are even far less. Everyone knows how much money wolves bring in to this area from wolf supporters who come to the parks just for them each year; it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that when people start to become discouraged because they can’t see wolves and after a period of time they will stop visiting. They will stop bringing their money and the only people this will hurt are the businesses that rely on them in the area (hotels, gas stations, restaraunts, etc). Bill Hoppe does not solely rely on livestock to make a living; he is actually an outfitter and owner of a guest ranch. Part of his livelihood was already affected by the ‘mistake’ he made. Imagine what not having visible wolves will do in a couple of years to these other business owners. It is sad that people like Mr. Hoppe who hate wolves for whatever reason, are so selfish and so wrapped up in that hatred, that they haven’t thought about what they are doing to other hard-working families who make a great deal of their livelihood taking care of visitors there to see wolves. Sadly they will start to lose revenue and start shutting their doors all because a few selfish people who they may not even know wanted revenge.

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I finally worked up enough courage and asked Barbara if she knew anything about “my wolf,” the older sister to 831F. She said that she had left the park a few months after I had seen her. They won’t say that she is deceased, she has simply dispersed. Several members of the Blacktail Pack are also reported as “dispersed.” They have not returned to the park after another member of their pack was murdered out of the park boundaries. Last year this pack was relatively large and provided well for their family; now the alpha male and female are the only ones remaining and it looks like they will not have pups this year. One carries the blood lines of the Druid Pack. I hope and pray that those lines can prove to be strong enough to overcome the odds and next year they are blessed with all strong and healthy pups; pups that will make the Blacktail area come alive with singing.

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Losing ’06 early this year was devastating, again – murdered outside of the park. There is no sport in the hunting of a collared or uncollared Yellowstone wolf. They are so accustomed to seeing people and have lost their natural shyness and are far from allusive. ’06 was very visible and would hunt and feed close to the roads as well as raise her family there. I remember seeing her before they would call her pack an official pack when the pups were first-born. I remember watching the two black males bring food back to the den from miles away when several live elk stood right at the den entrance. I remember checking on them every morning before dawn for over a week, hoping I would be able to see them without the help of a scope and how discouraged I was when it didn’t happen. Following her the next couple of years was simply an amazing blessing. The things she shared with and taught so many that had come to visit the park can never be replaced. She was a brave and strong girl and after seeing Spitfire several times in May, I’m happy to report that she is her momma’s daughter. ’06 taught her well.

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I am also a daddy’s girl. My dad taught me to fight for what I believe in, be honest, fair and respectful. He was a lifelong firefighter and arson investigator; loved the outdoors. When I came home back in May 2009 and told him I was selling my gorgeous, brand new home in California and moving so that I could be closer to Yellowstone and the wild animals I love because of a once in a lifetime chance encounter with a black wolf, he smiled and said he understood. I explained that I want to be closer to them so I can work harder to see they are protected, that people are educated about them and I wanted to write about them he encouraged me. Losing my dad hurt and it is taking time to regain my focus and continue that fight. There hasn’t been anything to write about that was or is more important than him and how much I miss him. And then last night out of the blue, Jann with Legends of Lamar Valley who doesn’t know me at all nor have I ever shared my writings with, cross posted a poem I wrote after my encounter with the black wolf. It reminded me why I left my place in California and moved to a strange place so far away from all I knew. To fight for the animals I love; the wolves and wild horses. The ones without a voice who are facing the most danger right now. The ones we have lost who have given so many so much. I’ve always wanted my dad to be proud of me and he always challenged me to succeed.

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Some may have taken away from us some wolves we loved, it hurts and we have lost our focus. Be warned however, soon we will find that focus again and we will find a way to come together to protect these wonderful animals who have as much right to be here as you do. We will renew our fight and we will be stronger than ever. I know this because I know my dad and now I have an angel watching over me and the wolves and he will see that we succeed.  Miss and love you dad.  Happy Father’s Day.

Thoughts for Wolves and Wild Horses

Corona from Sand Wash Basin

Corona from Sand Wash Basin

I started my day watching a documentary that Jim and Jamie Dutcher filmed about living with wolves.  I wasn’t shocked by any of the wolf behaviors or how they managed to live with the pack and raised the pups, nothing about that surprised me.  What surprised me was the opening of the movie where Jim was wrangling horses.  In Wyoming around the 1980’s.  Years before the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction program.   There were no wolves in the lower 48 states but one afternoon while he was out looking for horses he came across one grey wolf, shy but curious, hiding in the trees.  A few days later he spotted another one in the same area.  Fear wasn’t something he felt but like the wolf he was curious.   That is how his story began when he brought the Sawtooth Pack to Idaho where he and Jamie lived for 6 years, living with and documenting these wolves and the pack.  I wish I could do that.  Everything was on the wolves terms, if they chose to socialize with you, they did, if not, they didn’t.

Salazar is leaving in March and going home to Colorado but now who will take his place?  I’m praying it is somebody who is educated and compassionate about animals.  Somebody who will hear both sides and won’t make decisions based on money and hatred.  Will base decisions not based on government statistics but statistics from independent sources that are honest.

Four years ago, there were reported to be 67,000 wild horses on public lands running wild and free.  Today there are less than 32,000.  I visited a holding facility back in October and it broke my heart to see these once proud, fiery and fun loving horses put in crowded pens.  There were week old foals in large pens of mares being chased by other mares, mares fighting between pens and stallions chasing each other.  Normal behavior for horses in captivity, but painful to watch these horses that were use to wide open spaces take out their frustrations on each other.

Four years ago there were 1,650 wild grey wolves in the Rockies.  This year alone 605 have been killed.  The Yellowstone wolves have declined by 25%, bringing the number down to around 80 within the park.  Of the wolves lost:  824M of the Mollie Pack, 829F of the Blacktail Plateau Pack, 754M of the Lamar Canyon Pack, 823F of the Junction Butte Pack, 762M and 763F of the Madison Pack, 793 of the Snake River Pack, 832F of the Lamar Canyon Pack – all collared wolves.  And in December of 2012 two collared wolves were found shot, killed and left decaying in the Grand Tetons.  These numbers are heart breaking and overwhelming.

This afternoon I read a blog posting by a wildlife photographer that I have great respect for who lives near the Tetons, Mike Cavaroc (http://blog.freeroamingphotography.com/) and he wrote some very valid points.  We can continue to wallow in our hatred and anger or we can find solutions.  I see both sides of the wolf issue but I will always fall on the side of the wolves.  Do some wolves predate on livestock?  Yes.  Those wolves should be dealt with appropriately.  Do I believe in hunting out of hatred, fear and revenge?  No.  Do I believe in hunting to put food on your table?  Yes.  Can wild horse populations get out of control?  Yes.  Do I believe in managing them?  Yes.  They can be managed properly through bait trapping and birth control.  Those are my opinions; many may not agree and that is okay with me.

I do not want to see these animals hurt or tortured; I’d much rather be involved in bait trapping of wild horses and the use of birth control to keep healthy populations and make sure all the horses that are in holding pens go to good and caring forever homes than see them chased by helicopters, hurt, live out their lives in holding pens or sent to slaughter.  If the BLM walked up to me tomorrow and asked me to help them bait trap some horses and dart other mares with birth control or they will go out with helicopters and round up 250 next month and some will be injured or die and then they will be shipped to slaughter you can bet I will be the first one to show up before the sun comes up ready to help.  Is it the right thing to do?  I’m not sure.  Is it the best solution?  I’m not sure of that either.  Do I support this 100%?  No, not really.  But I sure don’t see any other great ideas falling from the heavens at the moment and I would much rather them include me in helping to do something that has far less harmful side effects than to do something kept in secret where wild horses I have grown fond of could be injured or worse.  A good short term solution would help us work together to develop a stronger, better, long term one.

I'm not ready to share this story just yet, but I will.

I’m not ready to share this story just yet, but I will.

I have wondered for months why with so many wild horse and wolf lovers we are quickly losing ground.  I’ve spent many nights crying myself to sleep wishing it would stop and wondering how I could stop it.  I have been furious and at times full of hatred.  Each time though I have come back wondering what I can do to stop it; it is one of the reasons why I started my blog.  I was stunned at some of the hateful and nasty things I saw posted by wolf lovers about the hunters; if we want to be heard and respected you cannot fight a battle by being one sided, closed minded and blinded with rage.  You can’t fight it alone either.  I have a deep respect for Wolves of the Rockies and WolfWatcher, as hard as it has been they have managed to stay calm and rationale and have been the voices of reason.  I wonder how much duct tape they have needed to use in order not to say the wrong things.  I have to believe they can do this because they are “keeping the end in mind.”  They are fighting to save the lives of the remaining wolves, what we all want.   We will lose some of the fights and as much as I hate to say this we will have to give a little to win the ultimate goal for both the wolves and the wild horses.

I know I’m not alone in how passionate I am about wildlife, mostly wolves and wild horses.  My life has been changed in so many positive ways because of them and many of the people in my life now I know because of them.  We are the majority and we should work together to find solutions to help the wild ones we love rather than allowing hatred and vengeance consume us which will paralyze us if we allow it.  There are many great advocate groups out there working for both causes as well as photographers and individuals.  I was recently at a meeting regarding wild horses but I had another interest there as well, wolves.  A question was asked; can you imagine if both groups were to come together the strength they would have?  I’m not sure but it sure wouldn’t hurt to try.

Through Wolf’s Eyes

Grey Wolf taken in Yellowstone standing over an elk carcass.

Grey Wolf taken in Yellowstone standing over an elk carcass.

My name? I’m not sure. At the place I originally came from I would normally hear them call me 897M but I have no name. It was pretty there. Lots of room, green grass, rivers to play in, rocks to climb and some really big mountains. It would snow a lot there when the days were short. There was also a lot of elk and bison there, hundreds of them. The best time was when the short days started to become long again and the sun made the earth warm the family didn’t have to hunt as much because we would find the old and weak dead near the water’s edge. Sometimes the big brown bears would come and take the dead from us but we would normally fight for it and win. There were lots of others like me there too, not family though.

When I turned two I felt the need to move on and find a family of my own. I traveled far within this area but the families were tight and not welcoming so they drove me further and further out of the place I once called home. I didn’t want to fight or cause trouble; I just wanted a mate of my own. I eventually ended up in mountains I had never seen before where the families were fewer and smaller but I wanted land of my own where my family would be safe from others so I continued traveling in the direction that the sun set. One long, warm day I came across a rather large family who had sent their daughter away and she joined me. It was nice to have company after so many months.

We crossed many rivers, mountains and black lines with noisy machines that went very fast. We did our best to stay up high to avoid the animals that walked upright on two legs that drove these machines and lived in square dens above ground. Sometimes we would see them up high on the mountains but we would hide in the trees and watch them as they ate the elk or deer and when they would leave we would approach to see what they left behind.

As we traveled the mountains became smaller and so did the trees in places but there were still Aspen trees, elk, deer and other hoofed animals. We no longer saw the big brown bears but we still saw the black ones. We had to go around many tight lines with barb stickers on them, sometimes in these areas we saw a new hoofed animal but they didn’t smell like elk and we had plenty to eat here so we avoided them. Since the mountains were shorter it was getting harder to avoid the animals that moved upright on two legs but we did our best to stay hidden in the trees.

Eventually we found an area where there was lots of room, Aspen trees, elk and deer and water. This is where we stopped when the sun became shorter and my mate had her pups. Since there were no other families here it was easy to find food and watch the pups grow bigger. We could tell that before us one like us had been here but its scent was long faded and we wondered where he had gone. When the sun started becoming longer again the pups were very large and strong, we often went out as a family to hunt elk and deer but we did our best to stay hidden. The animals that walked upright on two legs with the machines were more here and meaner. They carried long sticks that exploded and we would see them chase the new hoofed animals with small machines until they were tired and weak.

Sometimes we would have to move through these areas to get where the elk and deer were and another kind of hoofed animal lived. Their hooves were not split and they moved very fast. The upright, two legged animals didn’t come here often unless it was to stalk the fast hoofed animals or to chase the other hoofed animals on small machines. The fast hoofed animals seem to be more powerful than the upright, two legged animal and the split hoofed ones because they were seldom harmed even though they were stalked. They stayed to themselves and hidden mostly. We would also see coyotes and fox here and another that looked like us but who traveled with the upright, two legged animals and they smelled. There was lots of food here, places to hide and water but we would only stay to hunt and then return home to the place of the Aspen trees. The pups had grown so much now and were able to travel farther from home and learn how to assist in our hunts of rabbits and deer.

During the season of the short sun more of the two legged, upright animals appeared by our home in the Aspen trees. It was strange how they followed our paw prints and would stare at our droppings. The droppings would disappear when they would leave in the big metal machines that brought them here, were they taking it back to their den? Them being so close to our home scared us and we moved further back into the trees and hid more and traveled more at night so they wouldn’t notice us.

We spent many days here happy; playing, hunting and hidden. One day when the sun started staying up longer two of the four pups went with my mate to the hunting grounds to watch for elk, we needed to bring back food for the new pups born many moons before. The hunting ground was quiet, no split hoofed animals were nearby and only the fast ones with no split hooves were close. They hid as they watched a metal machine go by with coyotes in the back; they were very still and lifeless. When it disappeared from the valley they continued on looking for elk but none were found that day. As they started to return for home my mate smelled dying rabbit, at least which would hold the pups over until the next sun. As she reached for it there was an explosion. She jumped backwards, startled and began trembling and shaking her head and pawing at her mouth. She told the pups to run and hide as she began gasping for air and staggering, she couldn’t get enough air into her as hard as she tried. Many minutes later she was quiet and lifeless like the coyotes on the metal machine. The pups tried to wake her up but there was no breath, they lied across her and howled begging her to get up and take them home but she wouldn’t move. When the sun finally left the sky they howled for her to come with them one more time and when she still did not move they ran for their home in the Aspen trees.

I heard the pups when they were close and knew something was wrong as they cried with low moans and whimpers. The other pups and I left the new pups sleeping and met them at the edge of the Aspens. I took one of the pups who had originally stayed with me and one who knew where his mother was back to the hunting grounds with me while the others stayed to watch over the new pups. She was just sick I was sure and I could bring her back to the Aspens and help her. The sun was just starting to come over the hills when we got to where she was, the area smelled like the two legged animals that walked upright. We searched for most of the time the sun was in the sky; sometimes we would stop and howl, waiting for her to answer us. No howl came back. We laid down in the shade to wait but she didn’t come. When the sun left the sky we returned home to the Aspen trees and the other pups that were waiting.

We stayed close to our home in the Aspen trees for a few suns and only hunted small game hoping she would return. We would howl often in hope she would hear us and respond letting us know she was coming home but no howl came back. I went back to the hunting grounds several times alone looking for her where she had been now only smelled of metal machine and the animals that lived in it. The pups were growing fast and the smaller animals we were finding close to our home in the Aspen trees was no longer enough to take their hunger away. We needed to find an elk and it should be soon. One day as the sun was leaving the sky and darkness was close I returned to the hunting ground again. After looking again for my mate I started to follow the trail of the elk. They were coming down from the high mountains now. I could tell they were close as I weaved in and out of the short trees along the river here. I stopped a little while later, hiding at the edge of the trees when I spotted an elk by the water. It was lying down with its front half in the water, the other half out on the bank. I waited for a long time for it to get up but it didn’t, I could actually smell a bit of death. I walked toward it slowly, weaving back and forth in case it did get up but it continued to be still. As I got closer there was a trace of the smell of one of the upright, two legged animals but it was very faint, I thought maybe it had been why the elk was dead; we had seen them often use one of the metal exploding sticks on the elk and other fast moving hoofed animals. The animals would fall quickly and lay quiet, sometimes it would take awhile, but their breath would leave them as the upright, two legged animals would roar and then get in the metal machines and go away. It was odd that they did not stay or take away good food like bears, lions, coyotes and we did. The fallen hoofed animals would eventually feed the others for days if they were left behind once the stench left the area and they felt it was okay to approach.

The elk had no breath left in it and it smelled safe, I was in a hurry and needed to take back food to the pups at our home in the Aspen trees. I started to tear into the hide and glanced around, the air was uneasy it seemed. I tore into a softer area of the hide and suddenly there was a loud explosion from where I had grabbed, a very strange and powerful stench. I jumped backwards, shaking my head and pawing at my mouth and face. I couldn’t take the smell away and ran toward the river, water would surely remove what it is that was taking my breath away. I rolled in the water, face first several times but my breath was getting harder and harder to take.

My name? I don’t think I have a name, Lord. Other than the number I was once called I sometimes would hear wolf or grey wolf. Is it important? I’m worried about our pups. They are out there without guidance and there was still much to learn for even the older pups about hunting and staying safe. We miss their mother; do you know where she may have gone? Why can’t I return to the pups Lord? Without us they will not know where to stay, what is safe to hunt and what to avoid. If one is injured the other may not know how to help it. My mate………………………..I see her now by your side. She looks many seasons younger again and a darker grey like when I first saw her and her family. We are home? Safe with no metal exploding sticks to fear? Please Lord, watch over our pups.

And Lord, please forgive them, the two legged, upright ones, they don’t know what they do…………………

*************************************

Imagine if a government agency or agencies in a state where wolves were still federally protected were to keep the presence of wolves a secret. Then due to pressure from corporate ranchers and their own reasons for personal gain decided to take matters in their own hands to make sure the wolves were taken care of before the rest of the public found out they were there. It happened. It may still be happening. I was recently asked by a group to assist them with another issue and in our discussion wolves were brought up. At first I thought it was “mistaken identity” – they had to mean coyotes. After more research I turned up evidence of wolves. The number of the wolf is made up. Through my research I followed a wolf’s journey and need to tell their story. I’m not finished yet………………………………..and I won’t give up.

Grey Wolf taken in Yellowstone standing over an elk carcass.

Grey Wolf taken in Yellowstone standing over an elk carcass.

The Missing 6

Image by Deby Dixon The remaining members of the Lamar Canyon Pack .

Image by Deby Dixon
The remaining members of the Lamar Canyon Pack.  I encourage you to visit her on Facebook and purchase images that you enjoy.  By doing so it helps her to be able to visit the park to continue bringing us her images and her stories.  

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Deby-Dixon-Photography/163901370329842

As of today 6 wolves of the Lamar Canyon Pack haven’t returned home to the park.  This is 06’s pack and family along with the beta male who was murdered in the hunt a couple of months ago.  Each passing day that they don’t return home makes us worry more; where are they?  Were they murdered too?  Are they coming back?  I didn’t sleep last night because I wish I were closer to the wolves, closer to the park, wish that I could do something, yet not sure what it is that I can do.  Was the last time that I saw wolves in the park really going to literally be the last time?  These wolves were part of our family, we watched them grow up and thrive.  I still wonder how one person has the right to steal something away from others that brought them so much joy.

Last year people wanting to see wolves generated over $35 million dollars to the areas near the park, I have to wonder if the proceeds from selling wolf hunting tags brings in that amount?  Montana reports that there were 11,000 less hunters in the state this year and I also wonder why that is?  And I really wonder why, if there are so many more wolf lovers and supporters than there are wolf haters and hunters, why we have lost so much ground?  The ground that is costing our wolves their lives.  I do believe that most of the ground that our wolves blood has been spilled on is public land, land for the people………………ALL people.  And if that is the case, why doesn’t our voice matter as well?

I understand the need for wildlife management which is probably why I didn’t shut off the conference I was listening to with Doug Smith yesterday after the first ten minutes.  Hearing how he believed that wolves should be hunted at first had me asking why then did he become involved in the wolf recovery program!?  However since I have worked in the veterinarian field all my life with both large and small animals I understand the need for population control, regulation, survival of the fittest, etc.  I’m not a PETA person and do not believe every animal, domestic and wild, should be running lose on the streets of every town either.  No, I don’t like seeing animals in captivity in zoos or sanctuaries but I do believe that for most of the people in the world this is the only place they will ever see wild animals and it’s important that they are educated about them.  I’d be willing to bet that 90% of wolf and grizzly bear lovers have never seen one in the wild?  On the other hand I have no intention of taking a wolf’s life either.

The Missing 6 haven’t returned and a judge yesterday also overturned the decision made a few weeks ago giving us a buffer zone around the Yellowstone boundaries for the wolf hunt.  This was a compromise in a way.  Would we like all the wolf hunting stopped?  Yes.  Will that happen?  No.  Can we figure out something that will give us some neutral ground?  The buffer zone seemed to be it.  Now I wonder just who it was that kept a roof over that judge’s head all these years or perhaps just bought him a new one?

Unless wolves are re-listed the hunts will go on and the people who despise them the most will be more than happy about it.  As much as I don’t want to agree with them, they have a right to their opinions and sometimes they may be right.  I also have a right to my opinion and I don’t want to see wolves hunted at all and I also know that will be met with resistance as it’s not practical.  In Doug Smith’s conference he stated very strongly that hunting will NEVER be allowed in Yellowstone.  That if you wanted to see an uprising even mentioning that would bring one on.  That implies to me that the wolves do belong to the people and we have a say in what happens to them.  When the wolves of Yellowstone do wander outside of the park boundaries and heaven forbid predate on livestock, we (the people) have a plan in effect to reimburse the owner’s of that livestock.  It’s interesting – isn’t this what is expected out of any good pet owning person?  If a domestic dog were to kill livestock a responsible pet owner would reimburse the owner of the livestock for the damages too.  However an irresponsible pet owner most often would never be found and the livestock owner would never be compensated – I would say this happens far more often than the responsible pet owner scenario.

I would also hope that if the pet owner’s dog were to get lose and wander (or in most cases in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming the pet owner’s dog is not confined and wanders when it needs to) onto a neighbor’s ranch that the neighbor wouldn’t just assume the dog was out to attack his stock and just because it went under his fence he would shoot it.  I would hope that he would watch the dog to find out where it lived and once he knew he would either take the dog home or call the neighbor to make sure everything was okay and let him know their dog was lose.  Where I come from my neighbor’s dogs come and go across the property boundaries all the time.  Most of the time they don’t come all the way over to my place, they stick to what I would consider a safety zone.  However at times they do come over to visit and laugh at my dogs that are confined in a large yard.  When I see them I watch them awhile, maybe pet them, look over to see if the neighbor is around and then let them be.  As long as they aren’t tearing my dogs or horses into pieces they really aren’t hurting anything.  As of right now I have yet to storm out the door with a shotgun to take care of them.  This seems to me to be how good neighbors and pet owner’s act.

I might be reaching a long way but I don’t see the wolves being that much different.  The Wolf Recovery Program and we (the wolf lovers) seem to be responsible pet owners with the park being the ranch.  On the other side of the park’s boundaries are more public lands and some private.  Sadly the wolves do not understand park boundaries and they wander.  As much as I wish I could stop the hunting of all wolves I know that it isn’t possible, but what I would hope for is that as decent neighbors we would be granted buffer zones around Yellowstone and the Tetons where sometimes our wolves wander too.  We have been responsible neighbors and if our wolves predate on livestock we have reimbursed the livestock owner, if our wolves have caused trouble they have been destroyed and if our wolves have become habituated to people because PEOPLE have fed them, they have also been destroyed.  A buffer zone doesn’t seem to me too much to ask as a compromise.

Lucky for this wolf she is safe within a zoo.  She will never be stalked by hunters or mutilated by a trap.

Lucky for this wolf she is safe within a zoo. She will never be stalked by hunters or mutilated by a trap.

In return we will continue bringing millions of dollars to your states so that we can continue spending time with something we own.  If your cattle or horses wander over onto our public lands I promise I won’t shoot them or run them off, I most likely won’t even call in law enforcement but if needed I will run water out to them and doctor any that need it.  And if your dog happens to wander over onto our place we’ll take it in for a couple days where the coyotes can’t get it, where it’s warm, until you can come and get it.  It’s what good neighbors do.

 

 

Rise of the Black Wolf

I woke up this morning and checked the Yellowstone reports like I do almost every morning. There was a link to a video regarding wolf myths and facts that ended up leading me to a conference at a museum in Cody, WY where Doug Smith talked about the wolves in Yellowstone from 1995 thru 2010. The conference started with him stating that he does believe in “managed” wolf hunts and his reasons why. The conference was very informative about the elk population, the types of elk that the wolves predate on, how wolves hunt and take down elk, some of the packs located outside of the park in Wyoming like the Delta pack and how important that pack is since it travels back and forth into the park and a lot more. The Delta Pack does not predate on livestock and behaves and therefore have become “accepted” outside of the park boundaries. He discussed the numbers of wolves at the peak at 174 wolves (I believe it was 2007) and since that year there has been a steady decline and how that seems to be how nature “manages” wildlife numbers on her own. Distemper, mange and pack rivalry seem to be the leading cause of death within the park.

When I visited in 2009 and saw 302M for the first time, my first wolf in the wild, the number of wolves inside the park was still in the 100’s. I was there for 7 days and I didn’t see any wolves until my last full day in the park. They are elusive, shy and keep to themselves. Some wolves have become “immune” to the wolf watchers in the park and are more visible than others which is only to their benefit; these wolves have enabled more than just biologists to learn about them. Now the public can more easily view them in the wild, learn about them and grow to love them if they don’t love them already. Doug Smith even joked about the 100 yard rule in the park and then shared several images of wolves within feet of visitors. Yet at the time of the conference only 2 wolves had been destroyed for becoming habituated and fed by visitors (since then I believe 2 more wolves have been destroyed for the same reason).

That video ended and took me to another one, one I have promised myself since it was released I would see and yet I haven’t; Rise of the Black Wolf. I knew it was about 302M and his life but a part of me just didn’t want to remember, it may be too painful to watch. I finally watched it today and was amazed. I knew why he had earned his nickname of “Casanova” which was not normal wolf behavior and I also knew that when he was killed he was one of the oldest wolves in the park. You don’t live that long because you’re not the sharpest tool in the shed. From the start he was destined to die young; he was from a small pack, a territory dispute caused the loss of the alpha male and female and near starvation at a very young age for several months after that loss. But he persevered and learned, went out on his own, was a jokester and he was smart. He was a lover, not a fighter. Yet when he died he was the alpha of his pack and he gained that role although he chose other methods to get there.

Thank you Casanova for letting me be a part of your life that night and sharing some valuable lessons with me. I often wonder what lessons I was meant to learn from certain situations and sometimes it takes awhile for those lessons to reveal themselves. Learn from the things your handed; the good and the bad and do your best to avoid repeating the bad. Don’t be afraid to be the one who is different. Persevere; it’s where strength comes from. There is something to be said about somebody who chooses to walk away from a fight – choose your battles. You may come from the bottom of the pack but it doesn’t mean you’re destined to remain there.

Black Wolf yields a wild hero

by Erika Fredrickson

Over the years, wildlife filmmakers have learned to make documentaries with the kinds of story arcs found in dramatic movies or literature. Disney’s recent African Cats, for example, has Shakespearian undertones: A family of cheetahs in Kenya’s Masai Mara reserve become rivals to a pack of lions—Capulets and Montagues, anyone? The television series “Meerkat Manor” is even more theatrical, with a hierarchy embroiled in scandal and power struggles. Other wildlife films incorporate humans to add tension—classics like Born Free, about a woman who raises a lioness in Central Africa. All these elements help audiences connect with the natural world, but there has to be a balance. Too much anthropomorphizing can cheapen a nature doc, but without a good story hook, even films with incredible cinematography can fall flat.

In the next few weeks—from May 7 through May 14—the 34th annual International Wildlife Film Festival screens 100 films that attempt to tell wildlife stories that are both entertaining and accurate. Among those, The Rise of Black Wolf is at the top, as a film that tells a good, solid story without resorting to melodrama. The Montana-made documentary, by Emmy Award-winner Bob Landis, follows almost the entire life of one wolf as he breaks from his pack and lives to be nine-and-a-half years old—one of the oldest wolves documented in Yellowstone National Park. This particular black wolf, known by scientists and wolf enthusiasts as Black Wolf, Casanova, and 302M, has been the protagonist in other Landis films, including In the Valley of the Wolves, and was monitored by the Yellowstone Wolf Project because of his unique behavior.

Following one wolf to tell a story about all wolves is one thing, but The Rise of Black Wolf is about following one wolf to show how it’s different. It’s about a wolf that appears to not follow wolf rules. The film sets the tone from the beginning when the narrator says: “There is a code among wolves: Honor the hierarchy. Maintain order. Obey the rules. But this is the story of a rebel.”

Black Wolf’s early years aren’t actually documented. The film fills that story with footage of other wolf pups playing along the banks of a Yellowstone stream. This could feel like cheating if the filmmakers weren’t so honest about it, and it seems like a necessary way to show young wolf behavior and what happens to a pack as new generations of wolves come into the picture. In the hands of Landis, who’s filmed wolves for decades, it doesn’t seem cheap, especially since it supports his main conjecture about Black Wolf’s submissive behavior, something that would eventually serve him well.

There’s some fantastic footage here. In one scene, a wolf weaves through unconcerned herds of bison trying to save an elk carcass from a grizzly sow. In another, Landis captures Black Wolf playfully batting pine cones through the snow and tumbling down hills, all to the tune of foot-tapping harmonica. It’s charming and humorous, teetering on the edge of silliness, but Landis sets it up effectively as a contrast to other heavier scenes such as the heartbreaking moment when Black Wolf watches, terrified, as a helicopter hovers above him.

It’s easy to believe that in the wild, dominance and physical strength reign above all other survival traits. Black Wolf’s story is about how his more submissive approach to social status helps him live longer than his peers. From being merely youthfully submissive, Black Wolf begins to see other sneaky ways to achieve his adult goals of mating and getting food. He bides his time. He finds refuge on one of the Yellowstone roads where no other wolves dare to follow him, no matter how much they want to kick him out of their territory. In the process, he charms female wolves to the road and mates with them, all the while avoiding run-ins with the males.

The Rise of Black Wolf won this year’s Best Animal Behavior award for the festival, and for good reason. Landis captures a wolf that fulfills a hero archetype, and that’s what makes it so successful. The animal kingdom is an amazing place in and of itself. But when you have one animal whose life plays out like Odysseus’s journey, it’s impossible to resist. Add to that Landis’s knowledge of wolves and a well-interpreted plot, and you’ve got gold.