Many people go to Yellowstone, dreaming of close encounters with bears or wolves. And, on the rare occasion that some lucky visitor happens to be in close proximity to a wolf, most are dumbstruck with excitement. Afterwards they probably replay the moments or seconds with the wolf, and ask themselves if it had really happened, and how they got to be so lucky. For the rest of the day their close wolf encounter plays over and over in their mind and, for most people, they can’t wait to get to internet service so that they can share with their friends.
For some of us, it doesn’t matter how often we see the wolves because each and every sighting is exciting and we never get over that desire to run to Facebook and tell everyone about our amazing wildlife experiences. We aren’t showing off, but are truly excited.
And, then, BAM! Some well meaning wolf lover/advocate comes on the page and admonishes them for sharing on social media, or accuses them of being too close, or says that they used ill begotten means to have that encounter, and accuses them of putting that beautiful wolf’s life in danger. Just what you want to hear amidst your excitement. Suddenly, all of the great memories that carried the person on a cloud, through the day, have been washed away and, because they don’t know any better, they are left with shame. It doesn’t matter that the person making the accusation is just jealous or ill-informed of the situation, because now, they have ruined a once in a lifetime experience for a park visitor.
Let me start back at the beginning…
As most of you know, wolves are my passion. I came to Yellowstone to learn the truth about wolves and stayed because it would take years to learn about these dynamic animals, and because people were not being told the truth. Wolf haters were spouting off about how the wolves kill ALL of the elk and wolf lovers were putting the animals on a God pedestal and calling them perfect beings. The truth was somewhere in the middle.
In Yellowstone, I was made to believe that the wolves were the most important animal in the park and that they were so fragile that if I looked at them wrong, they would break. There was this large group of people who continually watched the wolves, day in and day out, and nothing else. Except that it seemed like they spent more time watching other visitors and complaining about their actions than paying attention to the wolves. Roads were shut down for miles if a wolf maybe wanted to cross and visitors were admonished for slowing down or stopping to take a look at their first wolf, when it stood right next to the road. There were constant complaints about people being too close, yet, this group got very close every chance that they got.
Certain people tried to ban others from seeing the wolves based on real or imagined infractions that should have been the duty of law enforcement to sort out. I was one of those who was told that I was not qualified to view the wolves. This was because I supposedly committed some awful offense of seeing wolves. I hadn’t done anything wrong, but more than that, I was brand new and very excited to see and learn about the wolves. But, even when they were miles away on a mountaintop, I was to be “subverted” from knowing where they were. As you can imagine, this didn’t go over very well and I fought for my rights to enjoy the wolves, as well as the rights of every other visitor.
So, I also stayed because it was a national park and the sign at the gate said everyone was welcomed. Quite frankly, I thought that these folks – VISITORS – were off their rockers in thinking that they had some control over other visitors in the park and that they had the right to run people off from the wolves. This was just too bizarre and another truth I wanted people to know was that the wolves and the park belonged to everyone, not just that group of folks. What I didn’t realize at the time was that these people don’t play fair and are not above making up stories in order to get people in trouble. And, that they very much believed that they had special privileges and could do certain things that I could not – such as, they could park in the road but not me. So, it was ludicrous but also horribly destructive.
Well, I believe that one of the things that makes me a good wolf advocate, is because I am free to tell the truth. I don’t feel it necessary to kiss the butts of people with misplaced power issues, that are lying to park visitors and authorities. Instead, I can stay true to myself and my beliefs. And, I truly believe that everyone has a right to share their experiences and opinions – it is called freedom of speech. It gets tricky when park service officials retaliate against visitors for telling the truth and standing up for themselves, but it hasn’t stopped me yet.
What I am afraid of is that people are loving Yellowstone wolves to death. The wolves have been put on this pedestal and elevated to something close to God like. Some people believe that they are perfect beings and go so far as to refuse seeing a wolf on a carcass or making a kill. In my opinion, many of these folks have no idea why the wolf was brought back to the Yellowstone eco-system, which was to manage the over-population of ungulates, and instead believe they are here for their hearts.
When the heart/emotions get involved, the truth gets lost and situations heat up quickly. Many people take ownership of the wolves and believe that they are protecting them when telling other visitors that they are too close, that they can’t stand or park in a certain place, or they downright lie about the actions of others in order to create conflict, bad feelings and make that person behave the way that they want them to – not the way the park wants them to behave, but how these wolf folks demand. And, often, the situation is too irrational, some people feel like they can’t do anything right, or it is too noisy, and they just leave, feeling unwanted and with no particular good will towards the wolves. People are prevented from hiking because they “might” encounter a wolf. There is no situation in Yellowstone more divisive than the wolves. Writers note – I have done all of these things, except lying, and more, because I was led to believe that it was the right thing to do for the animals. I have since reformed and only believe in following the park rules and not those of other visitors. And, I am continuing to learn how to mind my own business. Nothing like a good ole screw up to learn quickly what not to do! My apologies to those whose business I put my nose.
The park’s resources are taken up and monopolized by people watching the wolves – often, if you want to hike or watch other animals, there is no place to park. Or, the noise from the crowd is so deafening that one forgets that they are in nature. A person wants to hike or fish and this angers the watchers because these other park activities might disturb their wolves.
So, there is a lot of friction, a lot of blaming and shaming, along with a lack of resources, all due to the wolves. Believe it or not, some people resent not being allowed to use the park for their purpose because others have to stand around and watch wolves all day, every day. They are not begrudging anyone seeing their first wolf, but don’t hog the park and don’t tell them what to do.
None of these activities put the wolves in a good light. Not only are resources being destroyed, the reputation of the most contentious predators are being ruined before people get a chance to learn the truth. Folks driving through the park don’t care to have the road blocked by people and tripods and they, too, resent that everything is about the wolf.
It is my belief that by putting wolves on a pedestal and believing that they are here for our hearts and not for the work that they do to help balance the eco-system, it creates more resentment and does nothing for closing the gap. By putting unrealistic expectations on the behavior of other people who are excited to see a wolf, or creating chaos out of speculation from wolf sightings, people who would otherwise speak up for the animals, begin to resent them.
Recently, a snow coach guide in Yellowstone, reported seeing wolves in the park’s interior and was instantly told that he shouldn’t be sharing the locations. Here again, speculation of events, lack of common sense, disrespect for the guide’s vast experience and the fact that access to that region of the park is very limited, no doubt dampened the excitement of seeing the wolves. I really can’t do justice to describing just how special it is to have quiet, close encounters with wolves – and how special it is to share that with others. So many people live through our experiences because they can’t come to Yellowstone, or can’t wait to come back, and so they keep up with their favorite animals and are just as excited to hear that they are okay as we are to see them. The people making the negative comments are not professionals or experts, and are reacting from a purely emotional point of view, rather than being rationale and remembering that it is not their place to tell people how to experience the park. One person wrote, “I am extremely disappointed,” because the guide defended his position and would continue to share sightings. I sure hope he does – it is good to know that the animals are okay.
Whether it is other visitors seeing and sharing the wolves or hunters legally killing them, no good is being accomplished for the animals by bad mouthing, shaming, name calling or threatening the individuals. I know that people believe that they are doing the right thing and that they just want the wolves to be safe, but responding emotionally, rather than truthfully, rationally and logically, in professional way, will cause more ill will than good. Some, who might have been great wolf advocates, will turn their backs, while others may choose to get revenge by facilitating the killing of another wolf. When we love something too much, beyond all reason and all else, it never thrives in that environment and we smother the good that could be done.
Love the wolves for what they are to our land, and allow people to enjoy their experiences with the animals and the park without judgment and shame. Create good will around the wolves, not negative experiences. Share the park, the animals, the experiences, if that is your desire, and if you truly care about the continued existence of all that you hold dear, then treat it with respect and tell the truth. Let others learn by your example and never believe that you have more rights in a national park than anyone else.
People don’t care about what they do not know, so let them enjoy their wolf experience and if you don’t approve, keep it to yourself. It is none of your business.
THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN POSTING WOLF LOCATIONS:
Are the wolves close to the park border?
Are the wolves heading towards the park border?
Is hunting season still going on?
Will the pack be negatively affected by large crowds, or if people block their path? (I just heard this morning that 1118, a badly injured wolf that has been watched non-stop for about a week, climbed a steep hill to get to the road and was blocked when she got there, forcing her retreat. This behavior is unconscionable – we try not to block wolves from crossing the road, but when a sick or injured one uses valuable energy and then can not cross due to human behavior, this is a very big problem. And one to consider before announcing a wolf sighting close to the road.)
Is the pack being targeted by hunters?
In my opinion, there is no harm in posting wolf locations when they are in the park’s interior and access is limited as it is now. In summer, that information might draw large crowds that prevent the animals from eating and so thought should be given. Unfortunately, with record visitation, some of the wildlife sightings have been detrimental to the animals because not everyone respects them. But, use your own judgement and do what feels best.
**by writing this, I am not trying to stir up problems but am being brutally honest about what I have witnessed and experienced, in order to make the point – which is that all animals within Yellowstone are equal and none are more special than others, and that goes the same for visitors. Mind your own business.