Teanaway Wolves

It’s official. State wildlife biologists have confirmed an active wolf pack in the central Cascades. It was inevitable that the phantom canids would finally be caught on camera, captured, collared, DNA tested and submitted to whatever else scientists need to do to to prove to the world that wolves do indeed exist in Washington. This is the fourth pack found in the state, and the furthest south. There are two packs in northeast Washington, and one near the British Columbia border. This latter pack may have been decimated by recent poaching. Survivors have not been found. It’s unclear how the Teanaway pack got here, and who they are related to.

Gray wolves were extirpated from Kittitas County during the first half of the twentieth century. The area was heavily dependent on ranching, so predators were not tolerated. The world has changed since then. Cows no longer run on the National Forest around here. There is only one sheep allotment. Many of the big ranches have been broken up and sold piecemeal to developers. The lower Teanaway River drainage is privately owned, but the upper reaches are public land and largely unroaded.

The origin of the name Teanaway (Tee-ANN-uh-way) is from Sahaptin, the language spoken by the Yakama people. It possibly means “drying place”. It is dry, and geologically unique. Collisions of subcontinents, basalt flows, volcanoes, and glaciers all shaped the area, Now it is a place of long river valleys and sharply dissected tributary creeks, dry ridges and bare peaks, with patches of forest growing where trees can take hold. Some of the more magical meadows and springs I have ever encountered are tucked into the north slopes. Over the years I have walked many miles in the Teanaway, cut countless logs and watched fires. There are places where people rarely go. Too difficult for two-leggeds, but a fine place for cautious wolves.

The current uproar is predictable. It’s the same old vitriol that I heard in the 1980s in Idaho, when wolves were finding their way into the state from Montana. Wolves were also being reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park. I was an art student at the time, fascinated by the creature itself and by the human response. Pored over Barry Lopez’s classic Of Wolves and Men. Went to the university library and studied technical research (what I could understand of it). Wolves kept me occupied as an artist for an academic year. Wolves as fact, wolves as fairy tale, wolves as shape and color and symbol. I made this wolf portrait, superimposed targets on it, mounted the piece on plywood, took it out and peppered it with my friend’s .22 rifle. That’s how we make a statement in Idaho, by god. What are targets for if not to shoot at?

The wolf is both predator and prey. Wolves are both loved and reviled by people because we are similar. Detractors say that they kill for sport. Well, so do some humans. Supporters say that they are part of a complete ecosystem, that they symbolize wilderness. They are family-centric. So are some humans. Conspiracy theorists suspect that the enviros secretly introduced these wolves so that more land can be locked up. Wolves are going to kill all the deer and elk, leaving fewer for human hunters. I reckon the local cougar population puts more pressure on deer and elk than a few canine omnivores out in the Teanaway, but we don’t need to cloud the issue with data.

Nothing has really changed. Wolves have been here for a long time. I know I’ve been seeing tracks for twenty years, and never wanted to tell anyone. Fine, they’re here. May they go on living peacefully and unmolested, doing what they do. Scientists can scratch their heads, wilderness purists can dream their romantic dreams, hunters can clean their guns and call their legislators. All this fuss and furor–I think people just want to have a new thing to argue with each other about. It may not be about wolves at all, but who is right and who is wrong and what should be done about it.

As for me, you can probably guess where I stand. Amused and bemused by the humans, quietly rooting for the wolves. Hoping to hear howls some night when I’m camped out. Live and let live, wait and see what happens.

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