Institutional Researcher, Whitman College
Methow Valley, WA
After winding our way through the charred spruce of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and up a rocky forest road above the Methow Valley, we began our day with wolf biologists Zoë Hanley and Gabe Spence, two strong-willed minds with sharp eyes and a weariness for ranchers. Crouching over tracks, we learned how to read a wolf’s gait, and discussed the complex family structure and specifics of wolf behavior regarding their predation on livestock. Along with sharing her “risk” maps—that is, a generated topography of where wolves are most likely to kill cattle—Zoë posed the idea that the rancher versus wolf debate is at its core a societal question: “Who gets the right of way?” A political more than a science-driven issue, both researchers admitted the undeniable bias on each side of the value-divide.
The rest of the afternoon we strode toward a pocket of forest frequented by the “Lookout” wolf pack, stopping along the way to examine scat and practice our tracking eye. Stepping quietly off the overgrown road and into a saddle, we searched our peripheral for movement and ached for a response as Gabe let out a long set of howls. In the evening, we listened below the Douglas Firs of camp as Zoë and Gabe grappled with questions that left my peers and me unsure of where we stand, talking into the night of sacrifice and who belongs: What, if not science, should be the facilitator between the opposition? How do we create a baseline of trust and respect? To what degree do we need wolves? Ultimately, what do we want?
By: Jessie Brandt
Photos by: David Dregallo