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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.