Political beasts Will we ever be at peace with wolves? Deseret Magazine, May 2023
Sagebrush and brittle grass danced at my feet as I squinted through a spotting scope.
From a distance, the lumps in Yellowstone National Park looked like rocks. But rocks aren’t usually all the same size, and they certainly aren’t jet-black around here. I sucked in a big breath. A pack of nine wolves huddled on the wind-scuffed ridge. All but one were curled into balls in the snow, noses to tails, blissfully unaware of the commotion their presence brings.
Reactions to these wolves, and the thousands of others in the West, vary widely. Do they imbue a sense of awe, frustration or hatred? Are they seen as part of an ecosystem worth protecting? A threat to livelihoods? Colliding perceptions exist where the wolves lay, and spiral throughout the region. How humans feel about wolves influences the species’ existence in Colorado, where a ballot initiative mandates reintroduction by early next year; the Pacific Northwest and California, where populations are growing, expanding and sometimes getting into trouble; and the Northern Rockies, where wolves are restored and hunted.
Wolves have historically been subject to the whim of strong emotions, policy pendulum swings and lines on a map. They’ve been vilified and romanticized; illustrated as “bad” — or, at the very least, idealized as a wild thing symbolic of going it alone. The perception of wolves serves as the subject of classic literature, rock songs and fairy tales. But the reality of wolves in the U.S. today hinges on embroiled politics. Can they be a part of daily life in the West? Today, packs like this one in Yellowstone are caught in the middle of everyone trying to decide what they think is right.