Tag Archives: wolves

“Wolf Island: Discovering the Secrets of a Mythic Animal” by L David Mech (author) and Greg Breining (Contributor) – University of Minnesota Press, 2020

This is a a recent book is about research on the predator/prey relationship between wolves and moose, conducted from 1958 to 1962 at Isle Royale in Lake Superior. Most of it is taken directly from Mech’s field notes.

Field notes from ecologists provide insight (and entertainment!) that can’t easily be gleaned from peer reviewed scientific articles, of which Dr Mech published an astonishing three hundred, plus a dozen books (Wikipedia). I’m so glad this volume made it into print. We all need to know more about science.

So, most of what is written in this book is old. The dangers and challenges of remote winter field work were very great in 1958. Bush planes were temperamental and communications irregular, but Mech LOVED what he was doing as a graduate student. Later he wanted to change fields (to American Studies), but I’m glad he persisted as a biologist.

Mech is very restrained in his writing, giving us just a few glimpses into other areas of his life. We learn just a little about his family, and he also discusses religion.

A final chapter of the book discusses the amazing technological changes which subsequent decades brought to fieldwork, including radio tracking and DNA analysis. 

Wildlife and wilderness management inevitably become controversial. What is “natural”? When animals and humans occupy the same space, what interests should be defended? What do we lose when biodiversity is decreased? 

My mind wanders to issues of public policy. How can we make prudent decisions when our understanding of nature is so incomplete? Whenever I have an opportunity to meet young scientists, I feel encouraged that the work of groundbreakers like Mech is being carried forward. 


“Badluck Way – A Year on the Ragged Edge of the West” by Bryce Andrews

This book is so good I don’t know where to begin. Andrews recounts his year (2006 – 2007) as a cowboy on a ranch next to Yellowstone National Park, where wolves were reintroduced in the 1990s. “Conservation ranching” was intended to permit the coexistence of wolves and cattle. Andrews got caught up in the harsh battles that this experiment precipitated.

One literary device that Andrews has totally mastered is foreshadowing. I could feel the violence gathering, but didn’t know what was going to happen. The climax of the book carries tidal wave force. 

Andrews’ descriptions of land, animals and plants are detailed and vivid. He also discusses ranch work extensively. I can’t imagine how three men carried so much responsibility. Andrews slept out many nights, on the ground or in a truck bed, to protect the cattle herds.

I’m glad I read this book in hard copy (thank you, public Library) because I frequently needed to refer to the map of the ranch.

I’m going to nominate this book as a future “common reading” at my College. It’s engaging. It could lead to productive discussion in a wide range of classes – ecology, political science, sociology, public policy, business, geography and more. Psychologically, it’s an account of personal growth and reaction to challenges. It deals with an important conundrum which is unresolved.

It’s hard to think of another book that presents both sides of a difficult situation with so much depth. This could be one of the new “environmental classics” I’ve been seeking.