Leaders of the pack

The challenge of sharing our world with wolves

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The Dutchers spent six years living in yurts on the compound, recording whatever the wolves were doing. The wolves were, obviously, aware of the cameras and tape recorders and humans operating them. But, the Dutchers believe, the wolf pack still behaved much as one would in the wild.

The resulting book and film are, basically, amazing. "They've got such personality," says Jamie. "Goofy one minute, regal the next." While a wolf pack's organizational structure is brutally hierarchical ― for example, in most cases only the alpha male and female mate ― the animals are capable of surprising affection and compassion.

When the Dutchers undertook their project, there were hardly any wolves left in the United States outside of Alaska. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and other agencies began programs to bring back wolves to the Northern Rockies. These programs stirred up enormous controversy. Part of it, the Dutchers realize, is economics. Ranchers have an understandable aversion to predators eating their cattle. But part of it is emotional: The Dutchers see that even in their hometown.

"I moved here," says Jim, "because I get to see wildlife and be part of nature. But not all the new people are seeking that. They come here because it's safe ― a safe place to raise kids, to exercise, to run and bike. They don't want to share their world with anything like wolves."

 

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