This being the last wolf video of the year, I’d like to share some background on the continuing story of the Ravenwood wolves. The image of the wolf skull in this moment has a story with it that I felt you should hear.
Ravenwood is my home tucked in the wilds of Minnesota’s Superior National Forest. It is the area where all the wolves in Nature365 were filmed. It’s a vast wild land that contains the largest wilderness east of the Mississippi. The huge Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is just outside my door. Only two major roads between my home and the North Pole would be crossed if one went that direction. My location is just four miles from Canada.
I moved there many years ago to be close to the only small pocket of wolf population that escaped extermination and near extinction in the contiguous U.S. Wolves have roamed this land since the glaciers retreated 10,000 years ago. They have always been a crucial part of this ecosystem, and were here long before us humans and the white-tailed deer, that we love to hunt so very much. Wolves represent the wild as much as any animal I know. I needed to be close – to live with them to tell their story. For more than 35 years I’ve attempted to do just that through words and pictures. It hasn’t been easy but it certainly has been rewarding and even life changing.
When I first came to the wild Northwoods from the tamed prairie I saw the hatred for the wolf. It is not unique to Minnesota. I have seen that same fear and disgust in my travels all around the world, from Norway (one of the worst examples) to France. I only see a form of curious compassion in countries where the wolf has disappeared. That’s the way it goes – once we lose or destroy something there is often a new and fresher view and understanding. Perhaps a form of regret, and/or guilt, comes over the reflective and collective culture – a looking back.
In my studies and work with animals I have seen that the wolf is unique in how people perceive them. It is the most persecuted and misunderstood animal of them all. That is a story I expanded greatly upon in my book Brother Wolf. It is one reason I chose to spend my life with wolves and tell their story. I had thought over the years the work that some of us had done had made a difference.
I was rather startled by the attention that came my way because of the wolf connection ‘fame’. The wolf became a charismatic figure – it felt like a revolution had taken place. Movies were made like “Dances with Wolves”, hundreds of books were published and wolf centers were built like worship temples – bringing in thousands of people. I needed to retreat deeper into the forest from the rock star – like attention. At the same time I was terribly pleased to see the public’s new love for the wolf.
Then, the reality of a sad and deepening trend surfaced. The “a wolf got my deer” hunting crowd proposed a wolf hunt. Almost over night a bill was written and promoted by misguided legislators to satisfy the angry hunters and wolf haters. I never would have dreamed of such a development. The bill passed. The mystery is how it slipped by with 80% of Minnesotans opposing a wolf sport hunt. It is a complex and old sad story where misperceptions and scapegoating prevailed to achieve political ends. With resentment and competition towards wolves, it became easy to incite the willing with emotional tales that played to fears. Wolves were terrorists in our midst.
All of the wolves that you have been watching on these daily videos are gone now. I have not seen a wolf at Ravenwood in more than four years! Ever since the first wolf hunt the wolf family that I got to know so well was either shot or dispersed because of the stress because of the chaos that developed. As you have seen through the year, the wolf family is extremely closely knit. Not unlike the human family. I have seen the depression and confusion that overtakes the pack’s mood when one or two go missing. Those of you that have dogs know how they react when a prominent member of the human or dog family leaves. Same animal, with the same reaction – dogs are wolves. That’s why I have a hard time understanding the sport-killing concept.
One serious unintended (but not surprising) consequence happened once the hunt was in place. It’s rarely talked about, or even known in wolf circles. I have been in a unique position to see the profound change in a wolf pack caught up in that war… that’s what it looks and feels like to me. That consequence is that once Federal laws took protection away from the wolf and the state Department of Natural Resources allowed a hunt, it caused a kind of subtle permission to degrade the protective status or even “feeling” that wolves were off limits to kill. I know many of the wolves in my pack were killed illegally – the dam was opened and the culture gave its permission with an uncaring wink. I have heard first hand stories of local wolf haters shooting them out of season. Bragging goes on in the local bars; it’s a status thing with some (not all) in the hunting tribe – a badge of honor. One needs to live in the culture to see it. Secrets are revealed. I saw things that are lost to visitors.
Very few, if any have spent as much time as I have – living near the pack and in the midst of several generations of wolves being born and dying. I knew them all – some intimately. I hope this daily peek into my wolf world has helped some understand and see the magic of this remarkable animal. It’s a partnership that goes back 40,000 years or more when man invited the wolf into his family and then they became dogs.
The status of the wolf comes and goes in the Federal legal sense. For now they are safe in Minnesota. That will be challenged again I’m sure. If we care and value this national treasure I would encourage people to make even a small gesture to help. Howling for Wolves is a Minnesota based group that has made a huge difference in exposing the wolf’s plight. Please see their work here and contribute: http://www.howlingforwolves.org. I also am very proud to have worked with my friend Julia Huffman in making her documentary movie Medicine of the Wolf that tells the story of the hunt and reveals some intimate details of my wolf experiences at Ravenwood. One can purchase or rent the movie on iTunes or Julia’s website: http://www.medicineofthewolf.com.
There is a mix of sadness and relief in sharing this story. It has changed my life; things never remain the same – in nature and in culture. A combination of sadness and pride is also felt in seeing this year’s collection of moments end. A total of about six hours has been shown in the Nature365 series. It is at times difficult to see and comprehend how much time and effort I invested into this. When one is in love, measurements don’t matter. I was in love with my subject. I hope those that did not see all of the moments this past year will have the opportunity to view them during the next year as they will be replayed in full on this site.
Finally, my dear friends and colleagues at the editing studio in France did the incredible task of crafting each day from the hundreds of hours of video that I shot over the years. I give my deepest admiration and respect to Laurent Joffrion who conceived and directed this year’s NATURE 365 presentation. Benoit Maximos and Léo-Pol Jacquot patiently worked with Laurent and me through the year. I am indeed humbled and honored.