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American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West

Review

American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West

If a wolf could talk… It’s a compelling fantasy here made almost reality as award-winning author Nate Blakeslee follows the activities of a female wolf named O-Six, resident of Yellowstone. Tracing her trail opens the door to exploration of critical questions: Should wolves and other species be allowed their freedom to roam and reproduce, or be restrained and threatened by seasonal hunting? And who controls their fate, and the fate of the park and other federal lands?

It will come as a surprise to those outside the region that the wolf packs of Yellowstone are divided into known and specifically named packs. O-Six (referring to the year of her birth) was born into the Agate Creek pack, later joined the Lamars, and was known to be the great-granddaughter of a female from Canada, part of a group of wolves that was reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995. When first sighted, O-Six was three (considered middle-aged) and looking for a mate. She was notable for her facial markings and became a popular focus for wolf-watching tourists. She had many fans among the locals in the park area and eventually earned her own Facebook page.

"AMERICAN WOLF raises many parlous issues, but most remarkably, it uses the story of an interesting character, O-Six --- independent huntress, dutiful mother, fearless fighter and, ultimately, martyr --- to bring those issues home."

Blakeslee records the comings and goings of O-Six, a rare alpha female who commanded her own hunting territory. In interviews with local fans of the animal, it sometimes seems as though she was a favored pet. When O-Six was killed in a newly authorized legal hunt in Wyoming in 2012, many humans mourned; her death put a national “name and face” on the wolf-hunting debate.

The stresses on the life of O-Six and other wolves are the subject of perennial debate in the three-state area --- Wyoming, Montana and Idaho --- where they make their home. The wolves attack cattle, so ranchers resent their freedom to roam. But they also attack deer, and deer are seen by locals to be a nuisance. Wolves attack elk and other game that hunters generally target, so some hunters would prefer a control on wolfpack size via wolf hunting seasons, the longer the better. Having been reintroduced, wolves’ presence in the park is evidence of an admirable initiative on the part of the region’s planners. But still, many see the predatory animals as a danger to that carefully monitored ecosystem, while others advocate the possibility of declaring them an endangered species with the full protection that implies. Both sides have had their wishes fulfilled for periods of time, but no permanent solution is in sight.

Add to the puzzle the fact that most of these creatures and their human observers live on federal lands, which means, as Blakeslee sagely points out, that people who don’t live in the affected area may still have input into the disposition of the land and its uses through Congressional actions.

Blakeslee’s fairness in picking apart these complicated skeins is evident from the fact that he interviewed people on both sides --- forest rangers, ranchers, wolf-watchers, hunters, even the man who took down O-Six and kept her pelt in his remote cabin. AMERICAN WOLF raises many parlous issues, but most remarkably, it uses the story of an interesting character, O-Six --- independent huntress, dutiful mother, fearless fighter and, ultimately, martyr --- to bring those issues home.

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on October 27, 2017

American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West
by Nate Blakeslee

  • Publication Date: October 17, 2017
  • Genres: History, Nature, Nonfiction, Science
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Crown
  • ISBN-10: 1101902787
  • ISBN-13: 9781101902783