American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West- Nate Blakeslee
Crown/ Random House
Release Date: October 17, 2017
Synopsis: Before men ruled the earth, there were wolves. Once abundant in North America, these majestic creatures were hunted to near extinction in the lower 48 states by the 1920s. But in recent decades, conservationists have brought wolves back to the Rockies, igniting a battle over the very soul of the West.
With novelistic detail, Nate Blakeslee tells the gripping story of one of these wolves, O-Six, a charismatic alpha female named for the year of her birth. O-Six is a kind and merciful leader, a fiercely intelligent fighter, and a doting mother. She is beloved by wolf watchers, particularly renowned naturalist Rick McIntyre, and becomes something of a social media star, with followers around the world.
But as she raises her pups and protects her pack, O-Six is challenged on all fronts: by hunters, who compete with wolves for the elk they both prize; by cattle ranchers who are losing livestock and have the ear of politicians; and by other Yellowstone wolves who are vying for control of the park’s stunningly beautiful Lamar Valley.
These forces collide in American Wolf, a riveting multigenerational saga of hardship and triumph that tells a larger story about the ongoing cultural clash in the West—between those fighting for a vanishing way of life and those committed to restoring one of the country’s most iconic landscapes.
In American Wolf author Nate Blakeslee chronicles the return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, focusing their story in particular through the life and experiences of O-Six. O-Six grew up to become one of the most famous wolves in Yellowstone: a strong alpha leader, a caring mother, a skilled hunter, an intelligent fighter. She raised three generations of pups in the Lamar Valley where wolf-watchers could follow the comings and goings of her pack and learn more about wolves than they had ever hoped. Unfortunately, O-Six and her family have not only natural dangers to face inside the park, but increasingly hunters, ranchers, and politicians outside the park.
Blakeslee's American Wolf is a carefully researched, well-written book that uses notes kept by local wolf-watchers to chronicle a multigenerational account of the return of wolves to Yellowstone, seen particularly through the incredible stories of the Druid Peak Pack and the Lamar Valley Pack. New packs form, yearlings become alphas, pups are born, clashes between rival packs establish new territories, and American Wolf is written in such a way that the reader feels they are experiencing the events along with the wolves. Or at least the wolf-watchers. As with any good documentary, American Wolf doesn't try to gloss over the harsh aspects of life as a wolf in Yellowstone- there are violent fights for prime territory, lean winters, and leadership disputes right along with the cute pups.
For me, the hard part of reading American Wolf was also in the writing. The style and brilliant narrative that make you experience the wonder of watching wolves with naturalist Rick McIntyre also means that you feel the other side of the culture clash: the hatred of hunters and ranchers in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Blakeslee has carefully researched both the personal and the political saga of wolf reintroduction and brings the reader courtroom drama fit for the movie screen as hunters, Fish and Wildlife, the state and federal government, and environmental groups fight in court. As a wolf lover, I found these scenes terribly depressing. I will also admit there were a few parts where I cried when wolves I'd been following for chapters until I felt like I knew them met up with hunters. The frustrating understanding of how environmental science and the beauty of nature are so often casualties to politics makes you feel especially helpless.
American Wolf is a rich environmental drama with a rare ability to balance a story between nature and politics, haunting emotional awe with down-to-earth practicality, love of wolves with a lack of romantic sentimentality. A difficult, must-read book for anyone interested in environmental conservation and the amazing story of wolves and their return to Yellowstone.
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review