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Book Review: Among Wolves by Gordon Haber and Marybeth Holleman


Among Wolves begins with tragic news of Gordon Haber’s death. Haber, the legendary biologist who spent over four decades in Alaska, died the way he lived, studying wolves in the wilderness of Denali National Park. It was October of 2009; Haber was in a research plane, as he often was, looking for wolves, when the plane crashed into a mountain along the East Fork River. The crash killed him and spared the pilot.

Alaskan Marybeth Holleman, a substantial writer on environmental issues, created a book that is a testament to Haber’s life. She compiled papers done by Haber himself, (he’d planned on writing his own book), brief essays by Haber’s pilots and other associates, journal and field notes made by the biologist, as well as his Tweets—one says “…yipping pups howled a great rollicking 4-min chorus for me from the pond area” (pg. 51). Holleman’s voice is a seamless addition found in the introduction, the epilogue, and at the start of each chapter, where she gives us background information that provides context on Haber’s work and the ever-fraught-with-controversy wolf situation.

Among Wolves is rich with photos, maps and diagrams. Most of the pictures were taken from the air, which may make one worry they are of lesser caliber than close up shots. However, the results are both intriguing and informing. Haber’s camera captured wide views of wolves in their family groups (his term, used instead of pack), showing them hunting, playing, crossing a river. These encompassing shots create a movie-like effect, without staging or interference by humans.

While Among Wolves teaches us about Haber’s life, including a glimpse of his boyhood summers at Lake Huron, Ontario, the deep relationships he developed with friends, his close encounters with brown bears, and his tireless commitment to educating the world about Canis lups, the book remains focused on wolves. I have a feeling Haber would have wanted it that way.

Haber’s work was funded by nonprofits, primarily Friends of Animals, allowing him the good fortune of not having to answer to a state or federal agency. This gave him a freedom that seemed to suit him well. Haber was able to work independently, and in doing so, he came up with his own well-informed theories about wolves. A section toward the end of the book called “Significant Findings of Gordon Haber’s Wolf Research,” summarizes the theories that are elaborated on in the text.

One especially fascinating finding discussed in the book is that several of the wolf dens in Denali have been used for thousands of years or longer, and not only by wolves. Three of these homesites contain archeological proof that they had once been used by humans. Among Wolves includes sketches by Haber of the Toklat group densite that details a multitude of deep and wide burrows as well as above ground areas used by wolves for resting, surveying their territory, and raising pups, a significant event in the life of the family oriented wolf.

Haber’s findings dwell on the social attributes of wolves, suggesting they are “perhaps the most social of all nonhuman vertebrates” (pg. 249). He shares examples of wolves watching out for each other, at times behaving altruistically. Yearlings and lower ranking wolves often watch over the pups, sometimes staying behind when the rest of the adults go hunting. By agreeing to babysit, the larger wolves give up their chance to have a good meal, which is not a minor sacrifice when you are a wild wolf. Yet they seem to enjoy their duty, and are more than tolerant of the persistent nipping and playing of the young pups.

One example of the social connection of wolves is wonderfully documented in a series of Haber’s photos. An alpha female had birthed nine pups and she and another female nursed them. It’s August, and time to move the pups, but there’s a river in the way and the pups are wary of crossing. Their mom isn’t too worried about them, perhaps because she knows the yearling female will take care of the situation. And she does, playfully urging the hesitant pups along, and at one point, using her mouth to lift one of them to safety. When it appears the strong current will carry a pup away, the yearling jumps in the water and blocks it from flowing downstream so the soaked pup is able to climb up the bank.

Of course, as is the woe of wolves, many tales do not have a happy ending. Haber repeatedly observed the reactions of wolves when they lost family members to humans after leaving the safety of the park. One male of the Savage River group stayed with his mate for two weeks while she suffered in a trap. After the trapper hauled her body out by snowmobile (also shown in photos), Haber listened as the male wolf howled for his loss. The mourning wolf returned to the trap site over and over again. A month later he was shot by a hunter outside another area of Denali.

Haber fought hard for a no trapping/no hunting buffer zone that would protect wolves when they left certain areas of the park. In 2000 the Alaskan Department of Fish and Game finally agreed to this, although the zone covered less territory than Haber had requested. In 2010, just four months after Haber’s death, the buffer zone was repealed completely and an eight year moratorium on all such proposals was enacted. With no protection at the edges of the park, as well as what Holleman calls, “the largest de facto predator control Alaska’s wolves have ever endured…” (pg. 255), the wolf population of Denali has nose-dived.

Among Wolves is a rich addition to Canis lupus literature. It includes a great deal of new and intimate information on wolves. At the same time, this very readable book brings transparency to the figure of Gordon Haber, revealing to us, mostly through his own words, the intelligence and compassion of this remarkable man. And through the efforts of Marybeth Holleman, Haber’s vast and unique contribution to the world of wolves will prevail.


Among Animals
University of Alaska Press

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Book Review: In the Temple of Wolves by Rick Lamplugh

In the Temple of Wolves

Imagine. Three months in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, the place known as America’s Serengeti, lush with bison, elk, bear, coyotes, wolves and other wild beasts. This is where writer Rick Lamplugh and his wife Mary Strickroth choose to spend their winters, serving as volunteers at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch, where seminars on the flora and fauna of Yellowstone draw visitors from across the globe.

They don’t have much time off from work (as Lamplugh writes, volunteers receive “a stipend of twelve dollars per day–even on our days off”), yet Lamplugh takes advantage of every moment, both on the job and off, to enmesh himself in our first National Park. Determined to know Yellowstone intimately, he spends one morning sitting in front of a cottonwood tree, exploring the intricacies of its trunk and the beauty of its branches. This observation expands into an absorbing natural history lesson about trees, sagebrush, and the theory of trophic cascades, which in a nutshell proposes that when natural predators (i.e., wolves) are removed from an ecosystem there is a significant, and often deleterious, effect on the plant and animal species left behind.

Lamplugh teaches his readers in a friendly, understated way. Most of what he shares is what he learns himself — from the land, the animals, as well as from the instructors he comes to know at Buffalo Camp. His curiosity is youth-like and contagious, drawing us into his stories as well as his moments of realization.

While viewing a dying bison calf through the lens of a spotting scope, Lamplugh feels conflicted. The animal will soon expire and he feels for it, yet he knows that its flesh will feed many. But is it voyeuristic to watch the tortuous process of the bison’s death, he wonders? Finally, Lamplugh comes to the conclusion that he will adopt a naturalist’s viewpoint and learn all he can from the grisly scenario. A hungry coyote appears, determines there is no threat, and grabs a mouth full of brown bison fur. The calf raises its head. The mother continues grazing. The coyote jumps on top of the calf and its efforts become more earnest. Lamplugh looks away. To our relief as well as the writer’s, the suffering finally ends and the carcass becomes a feast for coyotes, ravens, magpies, and an eagle.

The chapter entitled, “Vanity at Trout Lake” is one us middle-agers can relate to. Lamplugh embarks on a long hike, assisted by snowshoes. He’s stopped in his tracks by a huge bull bison, lying across the trail, staring “…with old brown eyes that deliver a clear message: I’m not moving.” Rather than take this as a sign that he should return to his cabin, Lamplugh takes a detour. Need I say more?  A detour in the frozen vastness of Yellowstone National Park? Alone?  Naturally, he gets lost, and a snowshoe goes missing as well. Struggling through the deep snow, clothes soaked, exhausted, Lamplugh admits that he went on this ambitious endeavor in an effort to emulate a much younger instructor, someone he “would love to be more like…” By the time Lamplugh finds his way back to Buffalo Ranch, he has earned our confidence and empathy with his honest and amusing appraisal of his very relatable shortcomings.

As the title suggests, this book talks a lot about wolves. We follow Lamplugh and other wolf fans as they search the Lamar Valley for a sight of Canis lupus. We meet Rick McIntyre, Yellowstone’s tireless wolf watcher, whose vast knowledge of wolves is generously shared in this book. And we meet ‘06, the courageous and much loved alpha female of the Lamar Canyon Pack. On December 6, 2012, ’06 was shot (legally, as wolves had recently been removed from the Endangered Species List) when she stepped out of the park. Her death was followed by that of several others, helping to reduce the number of wolves in Yellowstone from ninety-eight in 2011 to only seventy-one in 2013.

There’s a fresh quality to this book, a sincere sense of wonder at both the harshness and the beauty that Yellowstone has to offer. Lamplugh is passionate without being sentimental. And his writing is descriptive and clear, with a balanced blend of interesting facts and personal impressions.  Reading In the Temple of Wolves is like watching a well-done PBS special, only more intimate and a lot more amusing. 

In the Temple of Wolves: A Winter’s Immersion in Wild Yellowstone

By Rick Lamplugh

CreateSpace, December 2013

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Book Review — Collared: Politics and Personalities in Oregon’s Wolf Country


Wolves–will they ever cease to create controversy and incite emotion? After all, they are just another four-legged, fur-covered predator–powerful, but certainly not the “beast of waste and desolation,” that Teddy Roosevelt called them. Hopefully, the time will come when our biases become obsolete and people accept Canis lupus as the survivors they are. But we are still light years away from this understanding.

Which, in a sense is OK, because if wolves weren’t such a love ‘em or loath ‘em species, people would probably stop writing about them. And we wouldn’t have books like Aime Lyn Eaton’s Collared: Politics and Personalities in Oregon’s Wolf Country to enjoy.

Eaton does an admirable job of representing both sides in the proverbial wolf wars. She includes comments from wolf advocacy groups including Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands, Big Wildlife, and Northeast Oregon Ecosystems. Their sentiments express the belief that the wolf is valuable to our ecosystem and should be protected.

And from the other side, Eaton offers a voice for Oregon ranchers, a group that tends to express regret that wolves ever returned to Oregon. Eaton spends time with livestock producers in the northeast corner of the state and we sense her sympathies for the added element of hardship wolves can add to a rancher’s already difficult life.

Collared also reveals the workings of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), especially Russ Morgan, the state’s Wolf Coordinator. Caught in the middle, the ODFW must manage Canis lupus while surrounded by a culture fed on misinformation about the species. The pressure of Morgan’s position comes clear as Eaton sits beside him in his pickup truck, watching Morgan who “…seems to have a weariness that goes beyond not getting enough sleep.”

Eaton provides an in-depth review of the Oregon Wolf Plan (OWP), the people behind it, and the changes made to the plan. She takes us to the first gathering of the Wolf Advisory Committee held in 2003, and none of the tension of that meeting is lost in the retelling. The book includes an addendum that explains the July, 2013 revamping of the OWP, which directs in detail how livestock depredations are handled. This is an innovative document, one that sets Oregon apart from other states by allowing lethal removal of wolves only as a last resort. Under the new guidelines, livestock owners must demonstrate the use of non-lethal measures before the state will step in and kill predating wolves. And wolves now have four strikes, meaning they are allowed four qualifying incidents of livestock injury or death within a six month period before the ODFW will remove the offending animals.

Collared is a slim book, but then Oregon’s current wolf saga is also slim. The last of our original wolves was killed in 1947. Fifty-two years later, a wolf wandered to Oregon from Idaho. She was hastily caught and returned. But more followed and according to the ODFW, at the end of 2012 there were at least 46 wolves in six packs. All are in the northeast section of Oregon, except for Journey, the legendary wandering wolf who is now camped out in the southwestern part of the state.

Collared is a book for hard-core wolf enthusiasts, those who want all the details. Yet despite the scholarly bent of this book it is a captivating read. Eaton’s seamless writing takes us into all aspects of the wolf issue, from a hash brown scented diner where she meets with a rancher, to the Eagle Cap Wilderness where Eaton and Roblyn Brown, ODFW Assistant Wolf Coordinator, track a newly discovered pack of wolves. Her forays into the wilderness in search of wolves are some of the most memorable parts of the book.

It stands to reason that there should be a sequel to Collared (perhaps Uncollared?) as the Oregon wolf population increases and disperses into the Cascades and elsewhere. By the time this occurs, perhaps there will be less need to micro-manage the species. But the need will continue unless we change. As Eaton writes, “The wolves are just being wolves.” And Russ Morgan’s wise response to this comment is, “Yeah, it’s the people that are the challenge.”

Collared: Politics and Personalities in Oregon’s Wolf Country
Author: Aimee Lyn Eaton
Publisher: Oregon State University Press

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Book Review: The Secret World of Red Wolves: The Fight To Save North America’s Other Wolf

The Secret World of Red Wolves
Considered functionally extinct in 1980, the much-misunderstood red wolf (Canis rufus) has made a tenuous but promising comeback. In The Secret World of Red Wolves, T. Delene Beeland relates the fascinating saga of the red wolf. In researching her book, Beeland followed Fish and Wildlife biologists into the field, crawling through blackberry thorns and dense stands of myrtle while swatting at mosquitoes and gnats in the hot, humid environment of North Carolina’s Albemarle Peninsula. Her interest and firsthand involvement in the project makes The Secret World of Red Wolves the wonderful book that it is. Beeland’s presence is on every page, and in a pleasantly personal yet scientific manner. We come to know the red wolf through the eyes of an objective writer, one who has the ability to deliver the details in both a factual and enthralling way.

The red wolf, a smaller version of the better-known grey wolf, once inhabited much of the northeastern part of this country, including Louisiana, Texas, the Carolinas, Florida, and Alabama. Devastation of its environment, as well as the wolf-loathing mentality brought to this country by early settlers, caused a drastic reduction in their population. Once the red wolf population was depleted, coyotes moved in from the west, taking over the niche of their larger cousins. The two canids began to interbreed, and the resultant hybridization has become a serious threat to the integrity of the red wolf species.

Coyotes and red wolves are often mistaken for each other, and the hybrids are even more difficult to identify. Because of the morphological similarities between Canis rufus and coyotes, there remains much controversy over the genealogical origin of the red wolf. Is it a subspecies of the grey wolf or a species of its own? Is Canis rufus derived from its liaisons with Canis latrans? Or is the red wolf perhaps part of a lineage that led to the coyote of today?

The Secret World of Red Wolves pursues these questions in depth, as well as many others pertinent to Canis rufus. The text is divided into three sections: the current red wolf situation, the animal’s difficult past, and, finally, its guarded but hopeful future. By beginning with close-ups of today, including Beeland’s forage into the brush to locate litters of whimpering, month-old pups, readers become invested in both the four-legged and the two-legged characters, as well as in the red wolf recovery project. When we play catch up with the history of the story, we’re already aware of the trajectory the Fish and Wildlife Service must take to reverse the damage done to this fragile species. And when we read of the future, we understand what challenges will be faced, including the continued struggle to prevent hybridization, the loss of wolves due to hunting and trapping, the continued degradation of habitat due to climate change, as well as the ever-important goal of garnering public acceptance for the maligned red wolf.

Beeland lays it all out there, the struggles and successes of what continues to be an innovative and determined effort to save an endangered species, and we finish her book feeling something of an expert ourselves. Beeland’s hope in writing this thorough and relatable text is, in her words, “…that future scientists and citizens will see fit to conserve what we have left of Canis rufus as a living reminder of both what was and what still can be.”

The Secret World of Red Wolves holds much potential in helping Beeland’s vision come true. The work tells a tale most of us, even those who consider ourselves environmental enthusiasts, know little about. For the first time, we have at hand a comprehensive and up-to-date resource that serves to enlighten the world on the precarious status of the red wolf. And once enlightened, we can do our part to ensure the continued protection of this rare and unique species.

The Secret World of Red Wolves: The Fight to Save North America’s Other Wolf
By T. Delene Beeland
The University of North Carolina Press, June 2013

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Book Review: The Hidden Life of Wolves

Hidden Life of Wolves

Jim and Jamie Dutcher
National Geographic Press
$25, 210 pages

For six years they shared a 25-acre enclosure at the base of Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains with a pack of wolves. Their office was a Mongolian yurt; their sleeping quarters a canvas tent. The path to the outhouse required frequent snow-shoveling for below-zero excursions.This was the life of Jim and Jamie Dutcher, award-winning documentary filmmakers. Their new book, “The Hidden Life of Wolves,” is the culminating portrayal of their experiences.

Although “The Hidden Life of Wolves” is an oversized book and contains hundreds of the Dutchers’ compelling photographs, as well as maps and illustrations, it is not a coffee-table book. The text contains an extensive study of wolves, both those inside and out of the enclosure, comparable in depth to Barry Lopez’s “Of Wolves and Men.”

“The Hidden Life of Wolves” details all aspects of wolf life, their social structure, hunting techniques and body language, as well as human-influenced issues, including the Yellowstone and central Idaho wolf reintroductions of the mid-1990s. Readers explore the similarities between the eradication of wolves in the 1800s and the current profusion of hunting and trapping, made legal when wolves were dropped from the Endangered Species List in 2011. Solutions to wolf problems, including livestock depredation, are explored. The Little Red Riding Hood myth is thoroughly debunked. There are references to many authorities, including Aldo Leopold, Gordon Haber, L. David Mech and Carter Niemeyer. The Dutchers suggest the wolf “may be the greatest shape-shifter in the animal kingdom,” acknowledging the vast disparity in our opinions of Canis lupus. Through intensive observation of their hand-raised pack, the Dutchers gained intimate knowledge of the inner workings of wolves. Their conclusion was that their subjects were extremely social and complex animals that were “neither demon, nor deity, nor data. “Readers come to know the Sawtooth wolves personally. Kamots is the benevolent leader. Without undue force, this striking gray wolf maintains order among his peers. Littermate Lakota is larger than Kamots yet remains at the bottom of the pecking order, often harassed by the other wolves. Younger brother Matsi comes to Lakota’s rescue, blocking blows from offending wolves. Amani, the adoring uncle to all pups in the pack, endures onslaughts of sharp puppy teeth.

These and other wolves are brought to life as they interact with each other and with the Dutchers, who record the wolves with camera and sound device, their hearts never quite out of the picture but at a distance that allows for an objective view.

Published by National Geographic and with a foreword by Robert Redford, “The Hidden Life of Wolves” is a richly layered work that speaks to the intricate and controversial relationship between wolves and humans.

While some see the wolf as a scapegoat for a litany of evils, the Dutchers maintain, “More than wolves themselves, it is our relationship with them that needs to be managed.” Their aptly titled book is a valuable guide for this process.

— Beckie Elgin

This review appeared in The Oregonian on April 27, 2013

photo from Living with Wolves
photo from Living with Wolves
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