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Yellowstone Wolves -Reviews

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"The devil is in the details." Often said--and often true, as in Cat Urbigkit's Yellowstone Wolves, a rigorous look at an issue that has been volatile and emotional since it was first proposed: the reintroduction of gray wolves captured in Canada to YellowstonNational Park. Yellowstone Wolves considers the interaction of science, politics, law, and sociology that resulted in the release of this experimental population of wolves. The author was deeply involved (a litigant, in fact) in trying to prevent that release. Urbigkit applies her journalistic skills to capture the major players and events involved in the controversial translocation plan. Much of her narrative is provided without editorial comment, but you get a sense of her frustration and dissatisfaction with some of the federal government biologists and environmental groups.

Urbigkit's well-documented book is divided into a forward, a preface, 22 chapters, an epilogue, notes, references, and an index. The thought-provoking forward by renowned wolf taxonomist Ronald M. Nowak provides a wonderful context for the book. In addition to a brief discussion of wolf taxonomy in North America, Nowak shares interesting perspectives on the state and application of the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). He touches on the use of reintroductions as a method of species recovery. Finally, Nowak talks some about wolf behavior and biology that tie into a central contention of Urbigkit--that there were already wolves present in the Yellowstone area and the reintroduction was a violation of the ESA. After finishing the book, I was compelloed to re-read the forward and give more thought to what I had just read.

The first chapters examine the evolution of the wolf and its taxonomy, the relationship of Euro-Americans with the wolf in the West and the attempt to eliminate the predator, and sightings of wolves in the greater Yellowstone region from the 1930s into the early 1990s. Some of the sightings were anecdotal but others appear to be well-documented by photography--including the famous instance of a wolf mistaken for a coyote and killed in 1992. Urbigkit uses this information to build a portfolio to support her viewpoint that wolves still roamed the area that was proposed for the introduction of Canadian wolves and that these remnant wolves represented a distant subspecies from that of the wolves from Canada. If so, this would constitute an introduction of an exotic especies (instead of the reintroduction of a native species) and would, therefore, be prohibited under the Endangered Species Act.

The next several chapters cover the discussions, concerns, and the decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to translocate the northern subspecies of gray wolves as an experimental population. Efforts by each side to promote their viewpoints and how that played in the larger national political arena are shown. Included are some fascinating insights on the preparation of federal environmental impact statements (FEIS) and the role that the public can play in trying to shape those documents. Chapter 11 deals extensively with taxonomy and how that relates to the ESA, which should be of interest to anyone that works with rare species having differing opinions about the species' taxonomy.

One could argue that the core of the book is the chapters that cover the litigation that wound through the federal court system. These chapters are supported extensively by excerpts from court transcripts that are used to highlight discrepancies between testimony, legal briefs, and the FEIS. As with any complex legal proceeding, there are many people and parties involved, including some that dropped out and/or changed sides during the proceedings. Fortunately, many of those frequently mentioned are listed in a table early in the book. Here, too, there is some sense of frustration, both at the pace of legal decision making and at the perception that judges many not read all of the pertinent documents before they make some decisions.

The remaining chapters look at the after-effects of the translocations, ranging from predation on livestock, working dogs and pets, and wildlife, especially elk on winter feeding grounds. Urbigkit interviewed several people who lost animals and shows how that has affected their lives. The author relates her experiences with wolves around her sheep ranch. One chapter examines the wolf compensation fund run by Defenders of Wildlife and concludes that the program might be more for public relations than actually meeting the losses incurred. These last chapters are important because they highlight the deterioration of relationships between the federal wolf program on one hand and local citizens and the State of Wyoming on the other.

The epilogue notes that the wolf population in Wyoming continues to grow, that FWS has become more aggressive in dealing with problem wolves, and that legal skirmishes continue. Additionally, there are unsettling paragraphs about what it means to protect unique biological entities such as subspecies and an indictment of the scientific establishment.

Overall this book is well-written. The amount and scope of research and documentation is impressive and is captured by an extensive note section. It is well-illustrated with pertinent maps, black-and-white photographs, and the occasional editiorial cartoon. The tables are helpful, especially those that list frequently mentioned people (and their affiliation) and acronyms.

I would suggest that Yellowstone Wolves is profitable reading for anyone interested in the complex relationship of humans and wolves, endangered species, or conservation biology in general. After reading this book, I had reason to re-examine my thoughts about the interactions of science with the ESA and the translocation of northern wolves into Wyoming. Issues many seem easily resolved and clearly right or wrong; but, of course, it's never that simple.

As of May 4, 2009, gray wolves are no longer federally listed in the Western Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment (DPS) and the Northern Rocky Mountain DPS, except Wyoming, meaning that wolves will be managed by state (other than Wyoming) and tribe governments. The FWS determined that wolves were recovered in Wyoming but that Wyoming's management plan was inadequate. No doubt, litigation will ensue.... - Craig Anderson, Madison, WI, Volume 30 (2), 2010, Natural Areas Journal.


Yellowstone Wolves provides a wonderful example of how wilderness management issues such as the reintroduction of a predator quickly become "wicked" problems, involving multiple truths, conflicting science, bureaucratic and political pressures, special interest groups, concerned members of the public, and the legal system. On the wolf issue in Yellowstone, Urbigkit notes the government agencies have their own agenda, and change their policies and procedures to ensure this agenda is met. ...Urbigkit provides a valuable service by highlighting the political nature of decision making and the troubling self-selection of science to serve bureaucratic and political ends in wilderness, park, and wildlife management. - John Shultis, IJW book editor, August 2009, International Journal of Wilderness.


... The book is a well-supported, cleanly written account of wolves from a Wyoming perspective, and is one of the most recent and in-depth books available on the subject. - Will Grant, Summer 2009, Montana Journalism Review


Cat Urbigkit's riveting, provocative book, Yellowstone Wolves, examines a scientific question that in the pastures of Wyoming and the halls of federal court would turn into a full-blown fracas. If wolves had disappeared from Yellowstone National Park and its vicinity by the 1930s, as is generally believed, why did the park's visitors keep hearing and seeing wolves? The US Fish and Wildlife Service provided one set of answers: the reported sightings were few and unreliable; the canids were dog-wolf hybrids or large coyotes; at best, the creatures were lone wolves who had found their way from a healthy Canadian population. Urbigkit, adopting a role of citizen-gadfly and plaintiff, put forward a competing explanation. The canids, she argued, were the improbably survivors of a native, ancient population of Yellowstone wolves. Furthermore--and here's the rub--the government's plan to reintroduce Canadian gray wolves to the park would drive a unique subspecies of wolf into extinction, a reprehensible and illegal act. It was a battle that Urbigkit and her allies would lose, but in this highly readable account the interested reader is invited to survey Urbigkit's evidence and question a government apparatus that, in her view, ignored and eventually rolled over its opposition. In the process of telling her side of the story, Urbigkit has written a gripping account of the unlikely alliances, courtroom battles, and frequently puzzling wolf activity that swirled around the government's landmark reintroduction effort.

Tempers run hot on the reintroduction issue-particularly among competing ranching and environmental interest groups -- and it is a credit to Urbigkit that a reader who disagrees on important questions can still enjoy her work; count Ronald M. Nowak, the author of the book's own preface, as a skeptical admirer. Urbigkit, who works as a reporter and lives on a working ranch, is plenty used to having her motives questioned by her opponents. Nevertheless, with a clear-headed, counterpunching style, she mostly reserves her wrath for those who willfully sacrifice truth for politics, and only in the closing chapters does an unfortunate note of bitterness attend her lurid tales of livestock depredation at the jaws of newly introduced wolves. But the real story here isn't only, or even mainly, about wolves. It is the drama of a woman up against her government, the unlikely thrill of clashing legal propositions, and the limitations of brandishing scientific evidence like a righteous weapon. - Patrick Bringley, Book Review of Yellowstone Wolves, Fall 2009, International Wolf Magazine, a publication of the International Wolf Center.


... Ms. Urbigkit described how citizens, ranchers, environmental groups, and the US Fish & Wildlife Service all wanted diffferent things regarding the wolf population in the Yellowstone area and beyond and most all were willing to fight tooth-and-nail for what they wanted.... It appeared that USFWS control over the experimental population was fairly absolute, and the history of the events described by the author suggested that USFWS exercised this control absolutely.... Though fairly well written, this account of events is quite detailed.... The end was especially interesting and well written. Stories of federal trespass, high levels of damage and damage control, conflicts arising from the transfer of management responsibilities from federal to state agencies, and continued legal battles while interpreting the USFWS actions under ESA [Endangered Species Act] seem to gain in intensity as the reader progressed through the book. ...If everything is to believed as stated in the book, then USFWS arguably mismanaged the situation from beginning to end. ...this book provides a detailed and up-to-date account that may increase our knowledge and help us form strong opinions, if we don't have the latter already. - Tim Hiller, staff writer, Trapper's Book/Video Reviews, Fur Trapper Magazine, Volume 45, No. 7, July 2009


Urbigkit, a newspaper reporter, conservationist, and sheep rancher, presents a lucid account of the interplay of science, law, sociology, and wildlife management as applied to the introduction of Canadian gray wolves into Yellowstone Park in the early 1990s. Arguing that the Canadian wolves represent a separate subspecies of Canis lupus from those native to the northern Rockies, the author decries the homogenizing of the populations. While treating the subject farily objectively, she has harsh feelings toward the stands taken by environmentalists and federal agencies that insist on protecting the Yellowstone wolves under the Endangered Species Act. This is a good read that shows all points of view, as well as Urbigkit's sympathetic but unsentimental attitude toward the wild canids. The book is well documented with maps and tables showing changes in wolf populations in the northern Rocky Mountain States. It includes seven pages of references, mostly Wyoming newspaper articles and federal government documents. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All undergraduate, graduate, and public libraries with collections on ecology, mammalogy, and wildlife management." - H.N. Cunningham Jr., emeritus, Pennsylvania State Erie, Behrend College. CHOICE, May 2009, Vol. 46 No. 09


Anyone who wants the insight on problems with the Endangered Species Act, the politics in the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Park Service, and details about wolves in Yellowstone Park, both native and introduced, will find this an educational read that provides plenty of food for thought. -Rebecca Colnar, Director of Media Relation, Montana Farm Bureau Spokesman, Spring 2009


Yellowstone Wolves is an intriguing look at how conservation battles with politics. - Midwest Book Review, Small Press Bookwatch, May 2009


Journalist Urbigkit and many other concerned citizens questioned why authorities planned to release Canadian wolves into Yellowstone National Park and in central Idaho, where these non-native animals would compete with the rapidly dwindling native stock. Urbigkit eventually became a co-litigant in a suit against the US Fish and Wildlife Service in the 1990s that sought to protect native wolves and prevent the introduction of Canadian wolves. Providing a close look at what is still one of the most visible and contentious wildlife management debates in the American West, Urbigkit gives details about the persecution of native Rocky Mountains wolves and the attempts to save them, the leaders of both sides of the debate over the release of Canadian wolves, and the tensions that inevitably arise when diverse interests battle over human attempts to conduct experiments with native and non-native species of wildlife." - Shannon Hendrickson, Associate Editor, Book News Inc., March 2009


"This book is an invaluable and unique addition to the story of wolves in the greater Yellowstone area." - Elaine Jones Hayes, Laramie County Library System, from Wyoming Library Roundup, Fall/Winter 2009, page 21


"The Foreword, by Ronald M. Nowak, beautifully sets the stage for the book itself. The Foreword is substantive and subtly presented, and it should be re-read once the book's main text is completed.

Yellowstone Wolves is a lively and carefully documented account of the use and abuse of science, multiple levels of politics, interpretations of the law, administration of justice, rural sociology, media, and unbridled propaganda as provided from all sides of a hideously complex subject. This book is a chronologically based, practical documentation, and the author's personal commitment to the issues is profound.

Although eminently readable by almost any interested person, the book should be required as case-study reading for students and professionals in the various fields of conservation biology. It also should give pause to all of us who write to decision-makers in support of viewpoints, as based upon passionate advice from disparate environmental or occupational organizations, before we personally have firm factual grasp on the involved motivations.

It is clear throughout the book that Cat Urbigkit strongly favors particular procedures toward enhancement of wolf recovery. Nevertheless, she presents insight into many differing perspectives, with clarity and fairness, that are helpful to readers in grasping the logic behind competing motivations. The deeper I got into this book, the more difficult it became to firmly maintain my previously held convictions--or perhaps better, biases.

Particularly interesting is the book's unflinching insistence that agencies of the federal government represent the most important impediments to application of 'best available science' within specific issues of conservation biology. Although probably not a specific intention of its author, I suggest this book gives powerful testament in support of the conceptual strength and practical necessity of stricter enforcement of the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

The book also left me with an enhanced personal sadness because, even now, it seems so difficult for humans to appreciate that Mother Nature herself, given adequate time and suitable habitat, can be trusted to provide the right choices, through functional natural selection, about geographic distributions of all her species." - Jason A. Lillegraven, Professor Emeritus, Departments of Geology/Geophysics and Zoology/Physiology, The University of Wyoming, 1/11/09.


"The protection of endangered species is most controversial when it comes to saving predatory animals, and nowhere has conflict been more intense than in and around Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park. Cat Urbigkit, an author of children's nonfiction books, a newspaper photojournalist, rancher, and litigant against the Fisheries and Wildlife Service, shares a unique inside-and-outside perspective on the decline and resurrection of the gray wolf in Yellowstone Wolves: A Chronicle of the Animal, the People, and the Politics. She shows how tricky relations become when humans, wild animals, and regulatory agencies operate in close proximity.

In the early 1990s the US government, allied for once with environmental groups, sought to import wolves from northern Alberta snd British Columbia to repopulate Yellowstone, willfully ignoring the presence of a small but persistent population of the native subspecies. Urbigkit methodically provides that wolves were never eradicated in Wyoming, and makes a fairly convincing case for the compatibility of the extant subspecies with the wolves of Minnesota. She frames herself as a concerned preservationist, but the closing chapters, set close to the present, show some enthusiasm for killing wolves, as their expanding numbers lead to a ramp-up in attacks on livestock. Despite signs of a murky agenda, Urbigkit's undeniably thorough treatment of the subject, featuring impressive historical documentation, makes this book one that no serious conservationist should overlook." - ForeWord Magazine, Jan/Feb 2009 issue, page 27.


[Cat Urbigkit] brings a unique perspective as she is both a sheepherder and a naturalist-observer, one who can appreciate big carnivores but doesn't want them killing her sheep or livelihood.

Her history is also unique. Before she was a shepherd she and her husband joined an unlikely coalition of stockmen and environmentalists who sued to protest the introduction of the Canadian wolf subspecies, arguing that there was a small and harmless population of the nearly extinct native subspecies already existing in the Yellowstone ecosystem. I admit that this was the most difficult argument for me to accept going in, but her careful documentation has made me a believer.

Probably they nearly disappeared when the horrific poison 1080 was in use, and were gradually building their numbers. These wolves were smaller and probably would have been more fearful of humans, which emeritus large-mammal biologist Valerius Geist argues is probably a good thing....

Cat next documents the long drawn out legal battles, culminating in the "re" introduction of the big Canadian subspecies, and going on to document how they finally arrived in her sagebrush plains, in one case approaching her 12 year old son as he herded sheep.

There is a LOT more here, documented without editorial comment--of the wedge the issue has driven between the government and the stockmen; on the environmentalist side, the decision to sacrifice a unique subspecies without studying it to see if it was recoverable without intervention; on the utter uselessness of the compensation program, which demands an impossible standard of proof; even dark humor. When a hunter shoots a pre-intro wolf he thinks it is a coyote, he is held in legal limbo for more than a month. As the Jackson Hole Guide editorialized, 'How is it that the Fish and Wildlife Service--our federal wildlife experts--can expect Kysar [the hunter] to have known he had shot a wolf when they have already spent six weeks in the laboratories trying to figure it out, and still don't know what it is they're dealing with.'

There are other issues in play than endangered species or embattled ranchers. As Cat reports, elk were eating the park, and there was no politically acceptable way to reduce their numbers.

And there is one more issue, only hinted at in Cat's book: the increasing probability that wolves that became too habituated will also become dangerous. ...Read Cat! - Stephen Bodio's Querencia, 11/25/08.