Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? 

New book outlines the 10-year history of the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction

Just over 10 years ago, wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in what conservationists and environmentalists hailed as one of the biggest steps in protecting endangered species since the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was passed in the 1970s. But the program was far from easy to get done, due to ferce opposition from anti-wolf groups in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana did their best to quash the program. Recently, the federal government handed over control of wolves outside of the park's boundaries to the states. And before you make up your mind how you feel about wolves roaming free across Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, you should know a little about them first.

Chronicling the last decade of wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park is a new book written by Douglas W. Smith and Gary Ferguson titled, appropriately, Decade of the Wolf: Returning the Wild to Yellowstone. Smith, a scientist involved from the beginning with the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction program and its current leader, gives unique insight into the agencies and organizations involved in a program that has been, by all accounts, extremely successful. Ferguson, an author with several Western wildlife books under his belt and bylines in Vanity Fair, Outside, and Men's Journal, offers not just assistance in writing the book, but has actively been working as a journalist on the fringes of the wolf reintroduction.

Decade of the Wolf begins strong, with a buildup into the reasons for wolf introduction prior to 1995. From the beginning to the end, it is clear that people within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were instrumental in making the program happen, and that, reading between the lines, a program of this magnitude would have been unlikely in today's political environment.

The chapters are arranged in a staggered manner, with overview chapters interspersed with portraits of specific wolves, monitored for years by the author via radio collars and other techniques. What is intriguing about Decade of the Wolf is Smith's firsthand insight into wolf behavior, which contradicts commonly held stereotypes that wolves are killers who would hunt human children if they could.

Before wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone, little research into wolf and pack behavior had been done. Smith shows that wolves are gentle, social and playful animals willing to accept others on occasion from other packs. The family bonds are strong, lasting lifetimes. But at the same time, wolves are very territorial and will actively hunt and kill individuals from other packs who may threaten their territories.

Though it does tend to repeat anecdotal wolf information from previous chapters when telling the life stories in later wolf profiles, the book is a well-written insider's chronicle of the first reintroduction of a top-level species that leaves the reader wondering what will happen next, since scientists believe that Yellowstone Park may have reached it's population potential.

Decade of the Wolf provides solid scientific information mixed with a narrative of the last 10 years and is recommended to pro and anti-wolf advocates alike.

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