by Nate Blakeslee
I love a good non-fiction, especially one that reads like a novel, and this one fits the bill. I chose it for my book club on the recommendation of PBS Newshour-NY Times Book Club, and it ended up being one of those somewhat rare books that touched me deeply and has stayed with me in the weeks since I finished it.
American Wolf chronicles the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone Park after virtually all wolves were eliminated from the park and the United States through hunting and trapping, sanctioned by state and federal initiatives. Realizing over time, however, how the absence of wolves from Yellowstone negatively impacted the park’s ecosystem, a handful of wolves were brought to the park from Canada to repopulate the park, and the lower 48. While the book follows several Yellowstone wolf packs, its focus is on a female wolf named O-Six (for the year of her birth, 2006).
I somehow missed all the news stories when O-Six and the wolves of Yellowstone were the subject of not only news stories, but of litigation concerning the battle between hunters and conservationists, but this book gave me a great education on those topics. It also forced me to examine my own thoughts and feelings about hunting and conservation. What I can say after reading American Wolf is that I find myself deeply conflicted. Intellectually, I see humans as predators, no different than wolves themselves; we are hunters, and we have a biological place in the food chain. However, I would prefer to believe that my meat grows on trees; the thought of actually killing animals is deeply disturbing to me. The book talks quite a bit about “fair chase,” a tenet that hunters hold, which I assume implies some sort of equality in the positions of animals being hunted and humans doing the hunting, and I find this notion ludicrously disingenuous. How can any chase be fair when the hunter is using weapons designed and created with technology that no animal has a chance against? In any case, I do find trophy hunting absolutely immoral – and wolves are largely the target of trophy hunters.
O-Six’s story, and the story of the Yellowstone wolves as told by Blakeslee, is majestic and heartbreaking. It is an education on wolves, Yellowstone Park, and the people who love them. I really loved this book.