Friday, December 30, 2016

The end is always the beginning of something new

The morning I heard the howling.
This morning I typed "The End" to the Yellowstone Howling story.

It was just like in the movies … except for the iconic sound of the typewriter keys clicking those last six letters and the kinesthetic feel of pulling that last white sheet from the rollers.

So, I guess it wasn’t much like the movies at all except for the slight blip of adrenaline that signaled “done,” the story told. I'm sitting here now surrounded by friends I've lived with for the past year, friends who have taught me many things and taken me to new places.
Janey: when compassion pulled her away from her ordinary life, she discovered a deep well of courage that carries her into a new one where adventure awaits.
Stella: pain opened a doorway to her past and a pathway to her future.
Jesse: struck by heart-breaking tragedy, he makes a choice that sets this story in motion, a choice that changes everything.

There is one character in the story that did not need fiction. She already was a hero, already a leader, already a rock-star in the eyes of her world. We gave her a name, because that's what we do. Wolf 06f we called her and she became a legend in the world of wolf-watchers. Rick Lamplugh in his tribute to her gives us a glimpse of her life.
I think, of all the characters in the book, I may miss her the most. I already know the others will show up in future books (Jesse is already staring in Mobius Dreamtime which should be out summer of 2017 and Janey is off to Mexico where I know she will find an adventure). 
But, while the legend of Wolf 06f lives on and her genes still roam the woods and valleys of Yellowstone, her story has been told and I know there is little chance that I will spend time with her again. And, that time spent discovering her story has been a gift.
Knowing my time with her is over makes me sad. My only consolation is the hope that my small telling of her story touches people and helps them understand the incredible beauty of the wild world we all came from and lost when we traded it in for safety and the security of full bellies.
I know this ending will lead to new beginnings, but for the moment, I'm just sad.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Beta-Readers needed for Yellowstone Howling

Finally, the story is told … it’s not a long story … about 70,000 words at present count. (Most novels run 90 - 120,000 words.)

Bear Cubs at Play - May, 2016
The important questions … does it make sense? does it have impact? do you understand what the characters are trying to do and what’s driving them to do what they must do? … are questions only readers can answer.

You are invited to become a beta-reader. At this point, I’m not looking for word-smithing or copy-editing; simply your reaction to the story and the characters. You will receive a suggested list of questions and the beta-reading needs to be done by February 28, 2017
Beta-readers will be acknowledged in the book and receive a free, signed copy when it is released. Limited to the first 20 readers who volunteer. If you are interested in reading this story, send me an email at jwycoff at me dot com.

Story description:

It began as an act of compassion, something of a “why not?” lark: simply two ordinary women trying to help a broken-hearted, guilt-ridden teenage boy. The journey took them to Yellowstone National Park where they discovered wolves, grizzlies, bison, as well as unexpected pieces of themselves. In a land that speaks with many tongues, they discover a secret that changes everything.

Some say the wolves changed the rivers of Yellowstone. Some say life can turn on a dime. They seldom tell you that you probably won’t notice the dime when your life steps on it. And, they almost never tell you that there is a wolf just waiting to change the river of your own life.
Believe it, though. It's true!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Tiny Horrors

Handcuffs for a child. (Background)
There are some things we just almost can’t comprehend.

One of the joys of the writing journey I’m on is discovering new things about the world. Seeing wolf puppies for the first time, watching black bear cubs romping through the woods, seeing first-hand the thermal power of the earth displayed in a kaleidoscope of color and forms throughout Yellowstone.

With that beauty and wonder, however, sometimes comes reminders of a past that rips apart my fairy tale about being human. I believe in the goodness of the human heart, but researching this book has forced me to pay equal attention to the dark shadow that follows every step we take.

Today’s reminder came in the form of handcuffs, tiny handcuffs, made to control small children as they were taken away from reservations to boarding schools where they were taught to “assimilate” (translation: look, act and talk like white people.) (Too much more.)

This story I’m writing is FICTION. Meant to be an adventurous journey taken by two, sixtyish women and a teenage boy. I wanted it to be realistic enough to include life and death, pain and joy, love and hate. But, it keeps pulling me into places I had no idea existed and definitely didn’t plan on visiting. 

This morning’s discovery almost knocked me out. I knew enough history to know about the attempts to assimilate Indian children and about the boarding schools. But, I didn’t know enough to think about them as anything more than misguided. Fortunately, there are people thinking about these things on much deeper levels.

Somewhat offsetting the heartbreaking handcuffs shown above, I discovered Upstander Project dedicated to helping "bystanders become upstanders through compelling documentary films and learning resources.” 
One of the documentaries they will release later this year is Dawnland, the remarkable story of a unique project of truth and reconciliation around a centuries-old practice of taking Native children away from their families.

When most people hear about children ripped from their families, they think of faraway places or of centuries past. The reality is it's been happening in the U.S. for centuries—and is still happening today. Native American children are more than twice as likely as non-Native children to be taken from their families and put into foster care, according to a 2013 study.

In Maine, a group of Native and non-Native leaders came together to acknowledge and address the abuses suffered by Native children in the hands of the child welfare system. Thanks to their commitment, the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was formed in 2012 to seek the truth and bring healing to those affected.

Dawnland is the only feature-length documentary to tell the inside story of this historic, first of its kind commission and the individuals—both Native and non-Native—who boldly and publicly came forward to share their stories of survival, guilt and loss, in order to illuminate the ongoing crisis of indigenous child removal.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The video that started it all: How Wolves Change Rivers

Click here to watch video.
This video burrowed its way into my imagination and just stayed there waiting for me to do something with it ... like write a novel.

Seemed simple enough. I already wanted to write about an ordinary, mature woman who goes on an adventure. So, she could go to Yellowstone and see the wolves.

Before long, her friend and co-worker wanted to be part of the story. Then a broken-hearted teenage boy said, "I want to go, too." Suddenly this unlikely trio is on their way to see the wolves. Only what they find when they get there changes everything.

The video is remarkable and beautifully done.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Wolf Genealogy Kickstarter Project

Click here to watch the video.

Wolf restoration to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem stirs the imagination of onlookers across North America and the world. Tens of thousands follow their lives, movements, successes and challenges. To know the wolves one needs to know their family genealogies. Each year we produce a chart showing individual wolves and their packs which is available at A long-term history and genealogy was chronicled in my book Charting Yellowstone Wolves (2012 Jim Halfpenny). However, wolf information is dynamic and changes rapidly. In order to keep up with the wolf pedigree we now want to take their lives online. This project will allow thousands of students, teachers and fans immediate access to Yellowstone wolf genealogies online and to produce their own written records.

Contribute to this important project.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Buffalo War

Click here for more info about the film.

THE BUFFALO WAR is a tough film to watch. It is a complicated story that no one wants to exist. 

This is the moving story of Native Americans, ranchers, government officials and environmental activists currently battling over the yearly slaughter of America's last wild bison.

Yellowstone National Park bison that stray from the park in winter are routinely rounded up and sent to slaughter by agents of Montana's Department of Livestock, who fear the migrating animals will transmit the disease brucellosis to cattle, despite the federal Department of Agriculture's urging that this is unlikely.

Featured in this film is a 500-mile march, a spiritual sacrifice to the buffalo, across Montana by Lakota Sioux Indians who object to the slaughter. Led by Lakota elder Rosalie Little Thunder, who recalls the old prophecy that as long as there are buffalo, the tribes will survive. The marchers express their cultural connection to bison and display the power of tradition and sacrifice.

They call it spiritual activism, but sometimes it calls for more than token sacrifice.

“The only true offering we can give to the buffalo or to mother earth is our own flesh,” Rosalie Little Thunder says as an introduction to a piercing ceremony, one of pain and self-mutilation that most of us cannot comprehend.

“The buffalo are important to us,” she explains. “This is what we can do. This is how deeply we care."
Woven into the film is the civil disobedience and video activism of volunteers with the Buffalo Field Campaign as they use their own bodies to shield the process of the buffalo slaughter, and express their grief as they, too often, fail. Also shown are the concerns of a ranching family caught in the crossfire and the portent of future problems as the area is increasingly developed.

In the winter when this film was made, 142 buffalo were captured, 90 were sent to slaughter and six died as a result of injuries from the trapping.

Culture tests later showed that 80 percent of the buffalo slaughtered between 1996 and 1999 were not infected with brucellosis.

Thousands of wild bison make their home in Yellowstone National Park, a haven for wildlife. Unless it leaves the boundaries of the park. Bison don’t read signs and the harsh winters of the park often lead them to migrate to the lower elevations of Montana, mostly public lands often leased to ranchers, as well as some private ranches.

It’s there in those unprotected ranges that one part of a bison's trouble begins. For this peaceful animal, recently declared our national mammal, there are two enemies: brucellosis and the bison's own success at surviving tough times.

Brucellosis is a disease that causes abortions, infertility, and lowered milk production in cattle as well as bison and is transmissible to humans as undulant fever. The disease is responsible for devastating losses to ranchers and has been a major target of disease eradication efforts. Officially, 48 states have now been declared brucellosis-free.

However, blood testing shows that about fifty percent of the Yellowstone bison herd tests positive for the disease.  The assumption is that they are infected with brucellosis but that can’t actually be determined without culture testing which can only be done if the animal is killed. It is possible, although not probable, that the disease could be transmitted to domestic cattle if the bison are actually infected. Since brucellosis is transmitted primarily through birthing material, many researchers believe transmission would be unlikely since cattle generally do not come into contact with bison birthing material.

Additionally, it is currently illegal, according to state and federal laws, to move wild bison anywhere except to a meat processing facility. In other words: slaughter.

The slaughter isn’t limited to the "trespassing" bison, though. Even the ones that stay within the seemingly safe boundaries of the park are at risk. Because ranchers feared brucellosis-infected bison coming into contact with their domestic cattle, the state of Montana sued the National Park Service in an effort to prevent bison from leaving the park.

The court-ordered settlement resulted in an Interagency Bison Management Plan to be implemented by the park and seven partners. This plan established a target bison population for the park of 3000. In good years, the herd population swells beyond the planned target and the Park Service is required to cull the herd. Since 2000, the herd has averaged 4000, requiring an annual population reduction, achieved by hunting outside the park and slaughter, with the meat and hides being distributed to local Native American tribes.

The film shows activists bicycle-locking themselves to cattle guards and transport trucks and building road blocking structures, forcing the Montana Department of Livestock personnel to have police escorts during their roundups and trapping.

However, Native Americans and activists aren’t the only people protesting the slaughter. Former Yellowstone National Park Superintendent, Michael Finley asks why we’re killing bison when they are migrating out of the park during the winter months, a time when cattle are no longer on those lands. 

Jeanne-Marie Souvigney, Conservationist, Greater Yellowstone Coalition states, "Bison and cattle can use the public lands at different times of the year, bison in the winter and cattle in the summer and there should be no conflict.” She explains that this sharing of lands is typical in the Tetons area of Wyoming and wonders why Montana is so bent on slaughtering the animals.

Not all the animals rounded up are slaughtered. Routine blood tests result in animals that test negative being returned to the herd.

More Information:

Yellowstone National Park Bison Management Overview


Saturday, July 9, 2016

MacNeil Lyons: Yellowstone Guide Extraordinaire

Far away ... but what a beautiful voice.
It was mid-May, cold, very cold, and predictions called for rain. But, my guide for the day, MacNeil Lyons, had hot coffee, breakfast, spotting scopes and, most importantly, a knack for knowing where the animals were ... and where they would probably go next.

It wasn't until I reached Gardiner and started hearing people rave about MacNeil that I was sure I had made the right decision when I booked a guide for the day. But, it wasn't until we were out in the filed that I understood why they were raving.

I wanted to see wolf puppies so, after glorying in a spectacular sunrise, we went to a den site where I saw three gray wolves tending puppies (the ones we saw were black) ... including one being carried back to the den after wandering off. Then, two young wolves took off and wound up chasing five big horn sheep across a mountain ridge. Wilderness in action.

We watched bears play, a fox carry a scavenged leg across a field of sagebrush, eagles, bison, elk ... everything you hope to see on a day in Yellowstone. But, the most amazing part came when we stopped to watch a couple of wolves traveling through groups of bison along a ridge by Soda Creek. 

We were tracking them with scopes to see if they would cross the road when I heard it. Howling.  

We turned and saw the wolf in the photo above, apparently watching the two we had been following with our scopes. They began to communicate and I had the most amazing experience listening to them. I didn't even realize how much I had wanted to hear the howling until it began. Priceless.

In between incredible animal watching, MacNeil explained the Yellowstone ecosystem and told stories. He even offered a lesson on how to spot more animals ... which turned out to be as much about life as it is being successful in Yellowstone. Below is the brief version: (you can see the full article here).

MacNeil's Rule of 4Ps:

Patience: Be in the moment and focus on the subject at hand.
Practice:  Be familiar with the subject you are observing to anticipate its next movement and behavior.
Persistence – Don’t think you can experience Yellowstone for just one day with a “Top 10 List” of what you want to see and expect to see it.
Pays – If you are patient and you practice the above mentioned and are persistent, it just might pay off in a one-of-a-kind digital image or mental image.

The day with MacNeil turned out to be a critical element of the Yellowstone Howling book. I'm hoping the book will be "done" late fall and that I will have done justice to the incredible world of Yellowstone and to MacNeil's guidance.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Buffalo Abundance

Momma bison and calf, Yellowstone 2016
Buffalo Abundance

In the long ago time before now,
Great Spirit covered the land with abundance.

Stretching beyond what an eagle could see,
Buffalo walked in harmony
As far as the wind could blow,
Uncountable as flakes of snow.

Buffalo abundance.
Given to humans 
So they would never know hunger,
Never suffer cold,
Never be lonely.

Great Spirit required
Only gratitude and a living prayer
For harmony and peace among all beings,
Remembering and honoring
The interconnection of everything.

So the story goes.
But, what I want to know is,
What did the buffalo get out of this deal?
And, now that we humans cover the land,
in numbers greater than the buffalo of old,
What gets to eat us?

John Fire Lame Deer tells us:
The buffalo gave us everything we needed. Without it we were nothing. Our tipis were made of his skin. His hide was our bed, our blanket, our winter coat. It was our drum, throbbing through the night, alive, holy. Out of his skin we made our water bags. His flesh strengthened us, became flesh of our flesh. Not the smallest part of it was wasted. His stomach, a red-hot stone dropped into it, became our soup kettle. His horns were our spoons, the bones our knives, our women's awls and needles. Out of his sinews we made our bowstrings and thread. His ribs were fashioned into sleds for our children, his hoofs became rattles. His mighty skull, with the pipe leaning against it, was our sacred altar. The name of the greatest of all Sioux was Tatanka Iyotake--Sitting Bull. When you killed off the buffalo you also killed the Indian--the real, natural, "wild" Indian (Fire, 130). (See also Traditional Use of the Bison from the National Bison Association)


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Wolf Puppies

Wolf Puppies ... photo from Living with Wolves

From Living with Wolves:

With the arrival of spring, tiny pups are born to the alpha pair. They come into the world blind and helpless, barely able to crawl. Each member of the extended family devotes itself completely to the pups, protecting them, making sure they grow up to be strong and beneficial additions to the pack.

The pups in turn, idolize adult wolves in every way. They walk where the adults walk, sniff the flowers the adults sniff and chew  the bones the adults chew, mimicking their every move. In this way knowledge is passed down from the older wolves to the
younger ones.

This knowledge also includes where to dig a safe den, how to hunt and where to cross rivers. The pack's survival depends upon this knowledge. Learning from the adults is how pups develop bonds, learn to communicate and cooperate as a family.

This dedication to family, defines the wolf.

But widespread myth and misinformation, causes these families to be torn apart everyday. The hunting and trapping of wolves and their pups is happening at this very moment, without understanding, thought or compassion, destroying wolf families and undermining this magnificent species' fragile path to recovery.

Living with Wolves is a 501(c)3 non profit that brings education, sound science and understanding to the public so wolves can raise their pups safely today, and for generations to come.

Call to Action: Wyoming Range

Momma Grizzly and cubs in the Tetons
From Greater Yellowstone Coalition:

Just a few hours south of Yellowstone National Park is Wyoming’s namesake mountain range. The Wyoming Range’s towering peaks and lush forests are home to half of Wyoming’s moose, as well as trophy elk and deer. The mountains also provide critical habitat for rare wildlife like lynx and bears. Its crystal clear streams are one of the last places anglers can find native Colorado River cutthroat trout. Thousands of people from around Wyoming and the nation head here every year to camp, hunt, and fish.

Hunters, anglers, Democrats, Republicans, ranchers, outfitters, and conservationists have worked together to protect this range for years. We all agree: The Wyoming Range is too special to drill.

Please join us in speaking out to protect the last 40,000 acres of the Wyoming Range from oil and gas leasing. The Forest Service is trying to do the right thing by declaring “no leasing” in this special place. They need your support. Please comment today, and tell the Forest Service you favor no leasing in the Wyoming Range. 


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Crackling Lake

Yesterday we explored the thermal world of Yellowstone which was the main reason for making almost 3,500 square miles of territory our first national park. (As an aside, the bill making it a park was passed in 1872 with the understanding that no one would ask for any money to manage it!)

Anyway, we didn't see all of the 10,000 thermal features and more than 300 geysers, but we saw incredible colors and marveled at the amazing thermal energy that surrounded us.

One of my favorite places was Crackling Lake, which sounded like it's name. Here's a 30-second video to give you a tiny taste.

Here are just a few more images from the day ...

and a new friend ...

Friday, May 13, 2016

Space and Abundance

Yellowstone continues to delight ... the sense of space and abundance is everywhere. I have fallen in love with bison. They are so calm as they walk through cars on their way somewhere else or sun peacefully in the fields, yet so powerful. There are so many of them here and it makes me feel wildly free to see them ... some in herds, some in groups, some miles away from the others. What fun to catch several moms and calves feeding.

My early morning walk was shared with several elk. This one looked like he was surprised to find me in his neighborhood.

 This is my access to the Yellowstone River right in front of the cottage. It's a trip I have yet to make.

Big horn sheep were among the other animals spotted today.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Chase by C Thomas Hoff

The Chase by C Thomas Hoff
Today I found a remarkable photo and a fascinating synchronicity.  I fell in love with this photo almost the minute I walked into Chris Hoff's gallery in downtown Gardiner, Montana. I didn't know there would be more.

One of the spirits of the Yellowstone Howling story is a wolf, a wolf who became the most famous wolf in the world because of her beauty, courage and spirit. In 2012, she was legally shot by a hunter when she ventured outside the park. She plays a large part in this story and is described in the "In Memoriam" segment of this blog.

Here's Chris's story of how this photo came into being:

THE CHASE STORY - March 26th 2011 -- see more of the artist's remarkable photos here.

It was a tough winter in Yellowstone National Park. Winter came early and dropped a lot of snow. It would be another 6 to 8 weeks before the valley floors were free of snow. The Elk were hanging out on the wind blown ridge tops that were free from snow but had little vegetation. The Lamar Canyon Wolf Pack were sleeping on a south facing hill side at 7:30 am. The Elk were on a ridge to the left. A few of the young Wolves got up and started moving around at 11 am. They went up the hill to check out a big bull Bison that was bedded down. One Wolf tried to grab ahold of the Bison's tail, the Bison didn't even get up, these young Wolves were no threat. After they harassed a single cow Elk 30 yds from the bison they went back to the other sleeping Wolves and woke them up. I guess they were hungry. The adult Wolves knew just where to go. They started up the ridge to the left slowly climbing, pausing, looking ahead. When they neared the top of the ridge they stopped and looked ahead toward the Elk. After a few moments The Wolves gave Chase. It lasted 4 seconds. They disappeared behind another hill. I was able to make 5 photographs in 1.2 seconds. The Image is the second and third photograph merged together into this Once In A Lifetime Panorama.  A minute later the Elk ran back up the hill, 1 less. Lunch was served. The Wolves in this panoramic photograph from left to right are 06 alpha female, 755 black alpha male, middle gray pup, 754 black beta male. The two other pups where still coming up the ridge to the right.  There were 30 some elk in all running down the ridge. 755 has turned silver over the last few years. It's no wonder after everything he has been through.
C Thomas Hoff.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

What a Beginning

Oh my ... what a day!

The Tetons
Cascade Caynon
Jenny Lake
Nice reflections
 3 wolves on our first day! I was so excited I only managed to get one in focus!
Out for a morning stroll
Antelope and a herd of elk were in the same neighborhood as the wolves but everyone was going their own way.

And bison ... lots of bison.
They know when they have the right of way!
Mostly they are just enjoying the sun.

Plus our cottage overlooks the Yellowstone River in the middle of Gardiner.

This is going to be a grand week.

Art and Antlers in Jackson

When we arrived in Jackson, Wyoming, it was too chilly and snowy to walk around town so we drove around and found a treasure ... the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Modeled after a Scottish castle and set on a hillside overlooking the National Elk Refuge, it is one of the most stunning museum settings I've seen.

I was expecting local art. However, the collection includes work by Rousseau, O'Keefe, Bierstadt and the largest public collection of Carl Rungius, considered the "Old Master" of North American wildlife art. I was particularly taken by Rungius's work since he started his adventures primarily as a hunter.

If you can't get to Jackson anytime soon, take this virtual tour. Here are just a few things I particularly liked. I am so glad it snowed.

Wapiti Trail by Bart Walter

Buffalo in the Snow

Tetons by Marvin Oliver
Museum Logo

Chief by Robert Bateman
Bison and the museum overlook
And, of course, what would a trip to Jackson be without a photo of one of the antler arches that grace the town square?

Spring Colors and Snow

It's easy to talk about fall colors but today we wound our way along the Snake River through spring colors ... thousands of shades of green in a kaleidoscope of sun and shadow as we traveled from a cool spring day to a snow storm (at 46 degrees!) Glorious.
Snake River
More spring


Saturday, May 7, 2016

It Is Going to Be Crowded

Will there be room for all of us?
On Monday, my RAV4 will be overflowing with personalities. In addition to me and my traveling companion, Ed, there will be three other passengers, the primary characters of Yellowstone Howling

Janey Devereaux - Janey is an average, middle-aged woman (58). Until two years ago, she lived an ordinary life as a wife and mom, working as a portrait photographer in the Roseburg, Oregon, J.C. Penney’s store. Then the Universe took away her husband and her job and sent her kids off to make their own lives. Depression, fear and anxiety have her in their grip and she doesn’t know what to make of what remains of her life. (NOTE for all you Roseburgians — there is no portrait studio in your J.C. Penney’s store.)

Stella Rainville - sometimes life gets pushed off the rails by circumstances, sometimes by our own mistakes and bad choices. Both forces conspired to create chaos in Stella’s life and at 54 and unemployed, she now considers herself a failure caught between two worlds. She knows she needs a change but has no idea what it should be.

Jesse Sanchez - until a few months ago, Jesse was an average, nerdy 14-year-old, more interested in Minecraft than the soccer his parents pushed him into. Then his sister, Amanda, died in a tragic mass shooting on the college campus where she had just begun her studies. Jesse feels guilty and thinks the only thing that will help is to see and take pictures of the places where Amanda spent her summer internship observing the reintroduced wolves in Yellowstone. 

With Amanda’s field note journals in hand, Jesse talked the now unemployed Janey and Stella into taking a road trip to Yellowstone National Park. (Hint: what they find there will not be what they expect to find.)

Although they don’t take up much space, there will also be some passengers who can’t be seen but who affect everything with their presence.

Amanda Sanchez - Amanda and her love for the wolves is the dynamic force that weaves through this story. Her tragic death pulls everyone into a mystery that changes everything.

Wayne Rainville - Stella’s uncle was a Vietnam vet who battled alcohol and PTSD until he found peace in the wilderness. While he lived, he gave Stella as much of himself as he could. When he died, he left her his cabin, which is where they will call home while Stella, Janey and Jesse are on their road trip of discovery.

Wolf - there are hundreds of wolves that have lived and died in Yellowstone in the twenty years since wolves were reintroduced into the park. One of them became a “rock star” to wolf-watchers around the world. Big, barrel-chested and courageous, she was the one everyone wanted to see, until she wandered outside the park and was shot by a hunter in legal hunting season.

How all of us will fare on this trip is yet to be seen.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Grizzly Delisting and Climate Change

Photo from Wikipedia
Citing the successful restoration of the grizzly population in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho during the last three decades from as few as 136 bears in 1975 to an estimated 700 or more today, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed removing grizzlies from the protection of the Endangered Species Act. This action, called "delisting," opens up grizzlies to trophy hunters if they wander outside the protected area of Yellowstone National Park … and grizzlies do wander.

Comments from the public are being accepted until May 10, 2016. Naturalist author, Doug Peacock, and many world-renown scientists are objecting to the government’s assertion that the grizzlies will not be harmed by climate change. Grizzlies have three primary food sources: whitebark pine nuts (trees that are now being decimated throughout the west by the mountain pine beetle), cutthroat trout, in rapid decline due to drought and the onslaught of non-native lake trout, and miller moths. Grizzlies can eat up to 40,000 moths a day during the late summer season. The effect of climate change on these moths is uncertain. 
This letter to President Obama from Doug Peacock, challenges the idea that climate change will have no effect on grizzlies and other animals designated as endangered.

Open Letter to President Obama

April 29, 2016

The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear President Obama:
We are writing to thank you for your leadership on climate change and to ask for your help: Yellowstone grizzly bears are in grave danger.
Your administration has regrettably taken steps to strip the bear’s federal protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), opening up a grizzly bear trophy hunt on the edges of Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone’s bears are a remnant and isolated population. They must be allowed to wander safely outside of Yellowstone National Park.

Americans would never accept hunting of America’s bald eagle; hunting Yellowstone grizzly bears is equally unacceptable.

To make matters worse, America’s great bears face the same looming threats as many species across the country due to climate change. In the last decade, climate change has decimated the Yellowstone grizzly’s most important food, the white bark pine nut.

Unfortunately, the March 3, 2016, delisting announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) came paired with an astonishing declaration in the Federal Register: “Therefore, we conclude that the effects of climate change do not constitute a threat to the [Yellowstone grizzly bear population] now, nor are they anticipated to in the future.”
This statement is even more disturbing in light of your administration’s commitment to addressing climate change, because climate change predictions are dire for all our planet’s species. How can it be that the military considers climate change in all its decisions, while the agency responsible for our wildlife, the FWS, does not?

The same argument – the denial of climate change – was used by the FWS in 2014 to deny listing the wolverine in the lower 48 states. On April 4, 2016, that decision was reversed in federal court, and declared “arbitrary and capricious.” The FWS was ordered to reconsider its reasoning about climate change. It’s now time for this federal agency to play catch up and use “the best available science” to keep grizzly bears on the ESA list.

A critical question: Who benefits from delisting Yellowstone’s grizzly bears? The only certain outcome of delisting bears will be trophy hunts in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

We ask you to instruct our federal wildlife managers to withdraw the March 3 rule and order the FWS to take another look at how climate change impacts grizzly bears. Any decision about the bear’s future should be put on hold until independent scientific review can explore potential impacts to bears from climate change. We strongly suspect that America’s great bears face a dire future, even with the continued protection of the Endangered Species Act.

Respectfully yours,
Doug Peacock
Author, Guggenheim Fellow

Concerned scientists:
Professor Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University, Museum of Comparative Zoology
George B. Schaller, Panthera Corporation and Wildlife Conservation Society
Jane Goodall, Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace
Michael Soule, Professor Emeritus, Univ. of California, Santa Cruz
Citizens of the Yellowstone ecosystem:
Jeff Bridges, Academy Award-winning actor
Yvon Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia, Inc.
Michael Finley, Former superintendent Yellowstone National Park
Carl Hiaasen, Journalist, author
Michael Keaton, Academy Award-winning actor
Tom McGuane, American Academy of Arts & Letters
N. Scott Momaday, Pulitzer Prize winner
Terry Tempest Williams, Author and Guggenheim Fellow
Ted Turner, Philanthropist and conservationist
Download the Letter (PDF)

Wolf Dens

This essay was provided by Jeremy Heft, Biologist and Sanctuary Manager, Wolf Education and Research Center.


As the snow melts in the spring, all gray wolf packs begin preparation for one the most exciting times of the year—the birth of puppies.  As discussed in previous lessons, breeding season for wolves begins in December and usually terminates in early March, with the actual mating occurring typically in late February. 

Wolves have a 63 day gestation, which means puppies are born in April or May.  This annual event is perfectly timed so puppies are not subjected to the extreme cold of winter immediately upon birth, plus most other Northern hemisphere mammals are birthing at the same time.  This is not a coincidence, but rather an evolved pattern so the pack has ample prey in the form of elk or deer fawns, which means more food to share with the new puppies. 

Another benefit of the spring season is the ground is quite soft due to being saturated from snow melt, thus is easy to dig into.  Packs create a den for the mother to birth her puppies in, and then the pups and the mother reside in this den for the first several weeks after birth.  The mother stays with the pups while the pack hunts, or a “pupsitter” is appointed by the pack to watch over the puppies when the mother must leave.  Either way, the puppies remain in or near the den for the first few months of their life. 

After the puppies are too large to inhabit the den, they are moved to a rendezvous site, where they stay while the pack is away hunting.  Now considered sub-adults, the wolves will never use a den again in their life, unless one of them later becomes a mother herself.  Dens are only used for birthing puppies, not as a sleeping area or to escape the weather as you may think.  In captivity, wolves will occasionally use dens to escape dominance from other members, but this is not a natural behavior, rather an ingenious way to use the available environment to cope with the negative aspects of captivity. 

In 2004, WERC supported an interesting Masters Thesis study by Jon Trapp of Prescott College.  Jon, a WERC supporter and personal friend, examined wolf den selection and characteristics in the Northern Rocky Mountains.  The study showed that nearly all dens existed within the core area of the pack’s territory, or the area used most frequently by the pack.  The most important factors in selection of a den site were determined to be adequate canopy (or large tree) cover, herbaceous vegetation nearby, small logs and rocks near the site, and the proximity to a water source (usually within 100 m). 

Jon found that many dens were visually obscured from a close range by vegetation, making the dens difficult to locate. This is probably important for protection of the puppies from predators and maybe even humans.  The study also found that human made structures such as roads were not a significant factor in choosing den sites, therefore providing more proof that wolves can probably coexist closely with human society.  Most dens were dug under a fallen tree root system or under a rock or similar large item, probably to help support the roof of the den. 

The soil type of the den site was deemed important, as most dens possessed a sandy-type soil that allowed easy drainage thus preventing the den from being flooded.  Jon’s findings were important to wolf protection, as managers now have better knowledge of potential den areas so protection from humans can be accomplished by closing certain high potential den areas to human activity during the birthing season.  This would allow packs to birth and care for their puppies undisturbed, leading to healthier wolf populations in the future. 

WERC is proud to have been a part of this important study. 

-J. Heft

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Yellowstone Howling Sag Wagon

UPDATE: We will NOT be doing the Patreon program ... so if you want to be part of the Yellowstone adventure, simply enter your email in the "Subscribe to" box on the right or join our Facebook group, Yellowstone Howling.
Wolf 06f - photo by Jimmy Jones

We will be heading to Yellowstone on May 9th.


In about a month, as part of the research for my new book, Yellowstone Howling, I will head to wolf country. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to see wolf pups emerging from their dens. I’d like to have you join me (virtually), but more about that in a minute.

What first attracted me to the story of the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone was the incredible, 5-minute YouTube video How Wolves Change Rivers. (Don’t miss it!) It sparked a story about an average middle-aged woman who goes on an extraordinary adventure to Yellowstone where she learns more about the wolves … and about herself.

Not only have I fallen in love with the wolves but writing about them has drawn me into a deeper connection with the world we live in. I thought I was just writing a book, but it may prove to be more of a spiritual journey. This became even more apparent when I learned about Wolf 832f (also known as Wolf 06).

The stories of Wolf 06f are told and retold ... about her teaching her mates and pups to hunt, about bringing down an elk all by herself, about the time, while still weak from birthing, she out-tricked a pack of sixteen wolves who wanted her blood and her territory. She was a “rock star” in the world of wolf-watchers.

Until she was murdered. Now her spirit demands to be heard.

In the strange and wonderful world of fiction, Wolf 06f has insisted on becoming a character in the story. Who knows where she will lead us!

As most of you know, I “taught” creativity for many years. They say you teach what you need to learn and, in my case, I think that’s absolutely true. I thought I was beginning to understand it nine years ago when I began to make digital art, but It wasn’t until I started this fiction journey two years ago that I felt like I was actually experiencing it. 

Now, I’m as giddy about the process of fiction as i was about creativity in general over thirty years ago (can it really be that long?) Several of you have been involved in Facebook sessions and conversations about titles and plot points. For me, it has reinforced the power of thinking diversity as I watched a story get more powerful, more boldly emotional and exciting with the ideas that came from so many different directions.

If you’ve ever wondered why authors thank so many people at the beginning of a book, it’s because so many people deserve to be thanked … for their ideas and suggestions as well as their support.

I would love to have you come to Yellowstone with me … like a virtual sag wagon … and to also be part of the process of taking Yellowstone Howling from fiction concept into a work that stirs imaginations and hearts.
Join the “sag wagon” for Yellowstone Howling by subscribing to this blog or
joining the Facebook group, Yellowstone Howling.

My intention for the book is to tell a story formed at the intersection of the human psyche and the wild world as they meet in a magical land known as “the American Serengeti” and are touched by the magical realism of spirit. No small feat … which is why I need help.

I hope you’ll join me on this adventure … who knows what we may find along the way … but I can guarantee you that the photos are going to be stunning (I’ve met some fellow Yellowstone photographers who will make up for my limited skill and equipment). And, you’ll know more about how important wolves … and wildlife … are to the balance of our world.

Thanks for all your support over the years.


P.S.  30% of book royalties will be donated to the protection of wildlife.

P.P.S. If you want more about the wolves right now, Druid Peak, is a good movie with beautiful scenery, available on Netflix.