Yellowstone Visitors Need to See the Wolves in Order to Care about them. Spitfire’s Legacy

by Deby Dixon

Spitfire, Fall of 2016, by Deby Dixon

Recently, I’ve posted a series of articles about issues that have arisen since the death of Spitfire.  My intent was to play Devil’s Advocate in order to get people to see that the wolf situation, and deciding on the best course of action, is a complex reality in Yellowstone.  The truth, at the end of all of the discussions, is that there are no easy answer to protecting Yellowstone wildlife, while still allowing people to see them.

Over the years that I have been in Yellowstone, I’ve heard about every accusation and bit of blame that there is available.  And, because of that, I’ve spent a great deal of time analyzing my own behaviors and making adjustments where ever possible.  But, time and time again I have come up against a road block when trying to find a finite solution that will achieve all of the goals.  That is because there is no such solution.

A special time with Spitfire.  I will tell you this story someday.

The thing about wolves, is that despite the fact that they were re-introduced to us more than 20 years ago, the controversy rages on.  Because of this it remains important to continue educating people and making them aware of the truth about wolves and why they are badly needed in our eco-system.  But, we can not do this, without allowing people to see the wolves – without patiently answering questions, and patiently continuing to bring truth forward, in an attempt to dispel all rumors, hysteria and even the extremism of some advocates who have made these animals their pets.  And, the only way we can do this is by speaking to these people in a respectful way, hoping that some of what we say will sink in.  This is something I’ve had to learn as well – all of it has been a learning experience with the greatest lessons of my life.  

One of those truths is that research is necessary in order dispel hysteria and fear, and in order to ground advocates so that they will understand that the wolves are here for the eco-system and not for our hearts.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad people care about these animals with their hearts, I certainly did with 926, but they aren’t here just for our entertainment, or to fill our pocketbooks.   Wolves are here because the eco-system was becoming destroyed by an over-abundance of ungulates that over-grazed and stood around without fear.  Because of this, there was less habitat for moose, beavers, birds, etc.  All of the elements work together.  

Well, if research is necessary so that we have the tools that are needed to educate people, then some wolves have to be collared so that they can be found. I am not 100% against collaring and definitely not against continued research.  However, I feel like less wolves could be collared and that the park could allow the animals to have a break from being watched every single day.  This all brings us to the problem of habituated animals.  But, no one group is responsible for that habituation – not the wolf project, not the people who watch the wolves, not the photographers, not the visitors, and not the silly person that tries to chase them down.  This is a comprehensive effort, a by product of the need for these animals to be seen.  Believe me, if you had never seen a photo of 926, and never heard about what a tough life she had, you would not have cared much about when she was killed.  She would have just been another wolf and it would have bothered you because you like the animals, but she was special and that was due to people sharing her with you.  

Unfortunately, in the realm of the wolves, it seems as though it is the advocates that are destroying our chances to reach those who hate/fear/or don’t know the truth about wolves.  Too much fighting, finger pointing, jealousy, ownership, money being made, etc.  It is confusing to me why advocates can’t come together for the common goal of educating people while urging them to work with us.  We can’t even work with each other.  

So, my goal was to simply show you the many sides of the wolf wars here in Yellowstone, so that all of you can be better informed.  So, that there can be more tolerance for all of the different facets that are dealing with in this issue. At the end of the day, we are all human and have all made mistakes.  But, we truly care about the wolves and want to do the right thing.

Leaving the wolves entirely alone is not an option.  Wolves that live mostly in Yellowstone have a chance at a much longer life than the wolves outside of the park but the price that they, and us, pay for that, is that they must be seen and used as instruments of education.  This might sound cruel but it is reality.  Even in Yellowstone, the wolves have a tough life with other wolves, disease, starvation, etc.  But, in the park their chances for survival are a little higher, meaning that we might get to know them a little longer.  Spitfire had already gone past the average number of years for a wolf to live, so we were lucky to have her for so long.  I wish, after all that she gave us, she hadn’t had to die at the hands of a man, but we can’t get her back.  We can only move forward.

While we are asking hunters and ranchers to be more tolerant of the wolves, and to be respectful of their Yellowstone communities by not shooting park wolves, we need to demand that we are more tolerant of each other.  We need to realize that none of us are the same and our goals are different – that doesn’t mean we will hurt the wolves, only that we are doing our part.  For me, it is taking photos and writing stories to share with all of you.  For others, it is watching the wolves.  We are in a national park and it is for all of us.  For me, it also means continuing to tell the truth in an attempt to educate people.  As unpalatable as that might be, it is necessary.

All I ask is that people put the lives of the wolves before their own needs to spout off or chase after them.  Before their own needs to watch them every single day.  Give the wolves a break and give the park resources a break.  All of us need to be aware of the possible repercussions of our actions and make individual choices about what we can life with.  Hopefully, those choices will be what the wolves can live with also.  

She was always a busy girl