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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


November 3, 2001 - Issue 48


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 When the Wolf Howl Echoes Across the Prairie


 by Dorreen YellowBird Grand Forks Herald-October 27, 2001

Somewhere between Rugby and Devils Lake, while returning from western North Dakota on Sunday , I saw a large animal run across the road in front of my car. I watched it as it crossed the far lane and went up the steep side bank of the road. At first, I thought it was a dog because it was too big to be a coyote or a fox. Now I am reasonably sure it was a gray wolf.

I favor letting wild animals share the earth with us. From what I've read and heard, the gray wolf in North Dakota is a good neighbor.

My aunt, who recently retired as a rancher in the grasslands in western North Dakota, disagrees. She is not a supporter of wolves. She includes them in the same category as coyotes or foxes. Wolves kill cattle, she said, and that is that.

She is most familiar with coyotes. Like wolves, they too kill cattle, she told me.

Now wait a minute, I said. Coyotes are too small to kill a cow or even a calf. That would be like a field mouse trying to kill a dog by gnawing its leg off.

Oh yes, she said. They do kill calves. They wait until a cow is down delivering her calf. Then they will begin tearing and eating the calf before it is completely delivered and the mother can't move. That's a sight I didn't want to stay with me, so I changed the subject.

In Minnesota, the wolves are ready to be taken off the endangered species list and will be left to fend for themselves, said Joe Fontaine, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's assistant wolf recovery coordinator for the Northern Rockies. The population of wolves has more than adequately recovered, and the management of the species should be given over to the state, he said.

Lawmakers in Minnesota have been trying for several years to figure out how to take on the new responsibility.

On the national level, the Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to reclassify and remove the gray wolf from the list of endangered and threatened wildlife in several areas, where recovery plans show "current classification is no longer appropriate throughout most of its (the wolf's) range," according to the July 13 Federal Register. By July of this year, a decision will be made on whether to change the status on the majority of gray wolves.

Grey wolves don't tend to make their homes in North Dakota. Karen Kruil, public affairs spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said they know of no wolves that are making dens or staying in North Dakota. The animals seem to be just moving through the state looking for a place to establish themselves.

I am hearing something different from others in the state. Friends who live at Spirit Lake, in a somewhat unpopulated area, said they have seen wolves near their place, now and then. In White Shield, N.D., people say they hear wolf pups yelping, and some have said they have seen wolves. But they say no cattle or farm animals have been lost to the wolves. These, of course, are undocumented sightings. The Fish and Wildlife Service looks at these reports casually.

I told the service's Joe Fontaine about my sighting on Highway 22. You should have looked closer at the animal, he said. Measuring the head, feet and even looking at his footprints are sure ways of identifying and distinguishing a wolf from a dog.

I thought, sure! There I'd be, in the ditch, stretching my measuring tape over the wolf's track in the mud -- while up the steep bank above me, looking past the fence post, would be the wolf licking his chops.

An adult male wolf can weigh up to 115 pounds, and they eat anything from "mouse to moose." That is a little above and beyond the call of column-writing duty, I think.

At this point, I didn't want Fontaine -- the wolf recovery expert -- to think I just completely blanked out when I saw my first wolf, because I didn't. The animal had a straight and not curled tail, which is one of the key differences between dogs and wolves. He was big and looked like he was shedding his winter fur.

Well, maybe the animal had come down from the Turtle Mountain area where there have been some documented sightings, Fontaine said. "Documented" sightings, as opposed those that are "reported" to have been seen, are very important.

From listening to my aunt, I understand that these wild animals can be a danger to livestock and other farm animals, and that is a point against the wolf. So far, though, no human has been killed by a wolf, Fontaine told me. That is a plus in the wolf's favor.

For me, it's the howl of the wolf as it sings his song to the wild prairie and the moon that is intriguing. Wolves add diversity and wonder to our world. We should make room for them on our earth.

Yellow Bird's e-mail address is or she can be reached at (701) 780-1228.

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