‘American Wolf’ highlights Yellowstone’s political, ecological struggles with wolves

Posted on Nov 30 2017 - 7:59am by Megan Swartzfager

Off Square Books will host award-winning author Nate Blakeslee at 5 p.m. tonight for a signing of his newest book, “American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West.”

Blakeslee, a native Texan and writer-at-large for Texas Monthly, published “American Wolf” last month through Crown Publishing Group, and he is currently touring to promote it.

Nathan Blakeslee; Photo Courtesy: Twitter

“I have always wanted to visit Oxford, but this will be my first time,” Blakeslee said. “It’s such a great literary town.”

“American Wolf” is the true story of O-Six, a famous Yellowstone wolf. From robust notes kept by wolf-watchers in Yellowstone National Park, Blakeslee crafted a book that details the complex political, social and ecological issues surrounding the reintroduction of wolves to the American West.

“We thought it was an interesting story, and even though it’s set in Yellowstone, the interest in wolves is universal,” Square Books manager Lyn Roberts said.

While the lives of most individual wolves go undocumented, a handful of passionate wolf-watchers recorded the life of O-Six in rich detail. This gave Blakeslee the opportunity to write about wolves in a more intimate way than is usually possible.

“One of (the wolf-watchers) gave me a treasure trove: 2,400 pages of daily observations of O-Six and her pack,” Blakeslee said. “It was like the diary of a wolf pack, filled with amazing scenes of wolf behavior, recorded in enough detail for me to build the entire book around O-Six and her family as main characters — like a Jack London story, in which everything that happens is true.”

Blakeslee first became interested in wolves in 2007 when he took a wolf-watching class in Yellowstone.

“I was amazed at how successful the reintroduction project had been—wolves were everywhere — but I hadn’t realized how controversial it was,” Blakeslee said.

Blakeslee was raised in Texas but spent a significant amount of time in the northern Rockies. Because of this, he came into contact with many of the people on both sides of the controversy.

Through his experience at Yellowstone, he met many wolf aficionados who admired the creatures and were thrilled at their reintroduction, but he also met hunters and ranchers who felt their enterprises were threatened by the predators.

When writing the book, Blakeslee said he felt strongly that he should communicate the ideas of people on both sides of the controversy. He felt the reintroduction of wolves was a good decision, but he was empathetic to those who oppose it.

Beyond producing tension between these groups, the reintroduction of wolves aggravated policymakers. Because much of the land in the West is federally owned, local officials had little power to resist changes that affected them and their communities.

“It became this local control versus Washington, D.C., dynamic that animates many of the public policy debates in the West these days,” Blakeslee said.

The issue has a long history, and it continues to evolve. The increasing tendency of many Americans toward conservation is in direct conflict with the lifestyles of hunters and ranchers who compete with wolves.

“In a place as thoroughly exploited as the American West — first fur, then gold, then timber, then oil and gas — wilderness is something that has to be created, or re-created, by people,” Blakeslee said. “The problem is that not everyone agrees on what an ideal wilderness should look like, what to leave in and what to leave out. And never was this more true than in the case of wolves.”