Beyond The Canvas Episode 1: Making the Music
‘American Wolf’ author Nate Blakeslee answers your questions
Judy Woodruff: Finally tonight, Jeffrey Brown has the latest author conversation from our "NewsHour"/New York Times book club, Now Read This.
Jeffrey Brown: Wolves, wolf watchers, Western lands and Washington policy, "American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West," contains all that and more, set around the story of one particular Yellow Yellowstone National park wolf named 06.
It was our book club pick for October.
And author Nate Blakeslee is here to answer some of the questions our readers sent in.
Nice to see you. Thanks you for joining us for this.
Nate Blakeslee: Thanks so much for having me.
Jeffrey Brown: And that was a great read. So, thank you for that.
Nate Blakeslee: I appreciate it.
Jeffrey Brown: Let's go to some of our questions right away, OK?
Nate Blakeslee: OK.
Bill Craver: What inspired you to research and write this book? And were the Yellowstone Park rangers eager to share their notes and their stories?
Nate Blakeslee: I had read a lot of wolf books in preparation of this. I had never read one that was told from the perspective of a wolf.
And so the idea was to write a sort of nonfiction book that reads like a novel, in which many of the main characters are wolves. The only way that was possible is because this one wolf, 06, was so famous during her lifetime, that she literally became one of the most famous wild animals in the world. She was a wild animal.
Jeffrey Brown: Yes.
Nate Blakeslee: But she was carefully watched, carefully observed.
What made it possible was, I met a woman, really dedicated wolf watcher, who watched 06 and her pack in Yellowstone every day, or almost every day for three years, and took notes.
And she gave me this treasure trove of material. And I read it, and it was like reading the diary of a wolf pack. They were reintroduced in order to try to fix that broken ecosystem in Yellowstone. There were far too many elk. The idea was, bring the wolves back and bring that -- restore that balance into the system.
I think rangers did not realize that it would become the tourist attraction that it did. They didn't bring them back to be a tourist attraction.
Jeffrey Brown: Yes.
Nate Blakeslee: But, amazingly, some of the wolves did stay in this one particularly wide-open area of the park, known as the Lamar Valley, where you could reliably spot them with a spotting scope, a kind of telescope used for watching wildlife.
And, today, Yellowstone is the one place in the world where you can reliably spot wolves from the roadside.
Jeffrey Brown: OK, let's go to the next question. It's about the wolves themselves.
Gary Getzin: Wolves are highly intelligent creatures, but they're always putting themselves in danger by confronting other wolves.
Have you ever seen evidence of packs that avoid confrontations?
Jeffrey Brown: So, the behavior and intelligence of the wolves, which is much of what you're writing about.
Nate Blakeslee: Yes.
He's correct. Wolves are extremely dangerous to one another. That sort of territoriality that you see in your dog, it comes from wolves. Dogs are descended from wolves, as we know. They're extremely territorial.
In fact, inside Yellowstone itself, where, of course, wolves are never hunted or trapped, the number one leading cause of death for wolves is conflict with other wolves. Every part of the pack is controlled -- of the park is controlled by one pack or another.
And when a wolf is ready to set out on her own or his own, the so-called lone wolf, she has to leave her natal pack to look for a mate, to look for a territory of her own, and she runs this gauntlet of opposing packs.
And somebody once called it sort of the "Game of Thrones" of the canine world. And 06's story, that's very much part and parcel of what -- the adventure story that is her life.
We -- the book begins with her sort of out on her own, wandering the park, looking for a mate, looking for a territory of her own.
There's really two stories being told at once. There's this adventure story of 06's life, but it also is the case that she came of age at a time when this fight in the West over how wolves should be managed was coming to a head, culminating in the first legal wolf hunting season in Wyoming in 50 years.
Jeffrey Brown: And explain. So, this is ranchers and farmers did not want the wolves, mostly.
Nate Blakeslee: Yes.
Jeffrey Brown: Did not want the wolves to come back.
Nate Blakeslee: Right. Right.
Jeffrey Brown: Environmentalists and others did.
Nate Blakeslee: Yes. Yes.
The idea that -- the wolves were brought back to fix that ecosystem. The descendants of those same ranchers that hunted wolves out of those mountains long, long ago, in defense of livestock, they're all still there. They're all still running cattle.
And so it was controversial.
Jeffrey Brown: OK, so our next question goes right to this controversy. Let's listen.
Nancy Bell: After you finished writing the book, and had interviewed many pro-hunting people, how did you come away from that? Did you have sympathy for both sides, or was it more one-sided? And did your opinion differ from how you felt when you started the project?
Nate Blakeslee: Those are all very good questions.
I'm from Texas. I grew up around ranchers and ranching families. I am a Westerner.
The most important thing to me was to have both of those perspectives in the book, sort of the pro-wolf side and the anti-wolf side, even though even drawing the divisions that way is, it's a little too -- it is not that clear-cut.
And I wanted to interview someone who had actually shot a wolf, because the fact that they were allowed to hunt wolves again in the Northern Rockies after so long, having then been gone, and then been on the endangered species list, it was immensely controversial.
And I knew that a lot of readers would ask, how could someone do that? How could someone shoot a wolf? Why would the state of Wyoming allow someone to shoot a wolf, after spending all this time and all these resources to bring them back?
The only way to answer that question was to talk to someone who had shot a wolf.
Jeffrey Brown: OK, let's go to another question.
Julie Francis: What is the current status of the wolves in Yellowstone Park and in the Rocky Mountains? And how can we get updates and news about them and follow them along?
Nate Blakeslee: Wolves are off of the endangered species list now throughout the Northern Rockies.
And what that means is that the states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming manage those animals, just like they do any other game animal. There is a hunting season. There is a trapping season.
And there's also this question of, what happens when wolves spread beyond the Northern Rockies, into, for example, Colorado? Will they be protected there?
And that sort of is the fight that's going on in Congress now.
Jeffrey Brown: All right, we will continue this conversation. We're going to post it online.
For now, Nate Blakeslee, thanks so much for joining us.
Nate Blakeslee: It's been my great pleasure.
Jeffrey Brown: And, before we go, let me announce our pick for November.
We are switching gears rather dramatically to a novel named to many best-of-the-year lists. It's called "A Separation" by Katie Kitamura. It's a psychological thriller about an estranged couple and a mysterious disappearance.
As always, you will find more on our Facebook page. And we hope you will read along at Now Read This, our book club collaboration with The New York Times.