...captivating ... From that first gripping chapter, Blakeslee carries readers into the politically fraught world of wolves in Yellowstone, where, since reintroduction in 1995, generations of elk-feasting tribes have thrived, creating a roadside wildlife diorama unlike anything in the world. Blakeslee’s riveting account is an East of Eden with wolves. Immigrants from afar arrive in a new land, where they fight and flourish, seeding generations of kin that roam valley and range. Tribal factions emerge, bloody battles rage and heroes shine ... Blakeslee expertly weaves dense political maneuvering and scientific revelations with operatic glimpses of O-Six and her brood.
Blakeslee recounts the pack’s rise in gripping detail, from its inauspicious formation in 2010 to its eventual takeover of the prey-rich Lamar Valley, where O-Six’s grandmother once reigned, and its fierce battles with rival packs ... Blakeslee is a gifted storyteller, but the rich particulars of American Wolf were drawn from thousands of pages of observations documented firsthand by the crew of dedicated wolf watchers who have been flocking to Yellowstone National Park since the controversial reintroduction of Canis lupus in 1995 ... That you can’t stop reading despite the looming tragedy is a testament to the genius of Blakeslee’s tautly constructed narrative.
Blakeslee does a fine job presenting the wolf’s basic biological requirements, from abundant prey source (in Yellowstone, the overpopulation of elk) to secure denning sites. But he also illustrates the far more complicated and ever-dynamic human elements affecting the wolves. The politics of ranchers — some for wolves, others against — and antigovernment zealots, hunting outfitters, Congress, courts and judges, and tourism operators all exert a sculpting pressure on where and how and if the wolf can live ... American Wolf takes its place in a long lineage of wolf books. And there are cherished, striking images here: a winter-killed bison bull, stalled out in snow so deep it couldn’t even fall over, but died standing up and was frozen in place, while the ravens and wolves circled, investigating. Many readers might find the shifting cast of characters hard to follow — wolves named Shy Male, 21, 42, 754, 755, 776, Middle Gray, and so on. This is not the author’s fault, but rather testament instead to the ever-flowing life force that is the wolf, to which so many are attracted, while others, repulsed.
American Wolf is ostensibly about a wolf and a hunter — a narrative that would be almost primal if the wolf, a charismatic alpha female called O-Six, wasn’t regularly being viewed through multiple telemetry lenses by the dedicated wolf spotters of Yellowstone, and if the hunter, Steven Turnbull (a pseudonym), wasn’t restricted by a litany of state and federal laws as he stalked his prey. No, the story of American Wolf is far larger in scope: the way we relate — or don’t — to wolves is not just symbolic of how we relate to nature, it’s symptomatic of what we will allow the construct that is nature to be ... With empathy for both those who want to protect wolves and those who would rather see them dead — and a deep sense of awe and respect for the wolves themselves — Blakeslee has written a book that is as much about what fueled the Sagebrush Rebellion and the so-called civil disobedience of the Bundy family as it is about wildlife.
The fight between federal and state control of Yellowstone’s wolves is embodied in O-Six’s story, told with great immediacy and empathy in a tale that reads like fiction. This one will grab readers and impel them into the heart of the conflict.
Blakeslee derives his beautiful, detailed descriptions of the interactions between wolves from a massive amount of observational material meticulously collected over years by wolf watcher Laurie Lyman and park wildlife expert Rick McIntyre. The latter receives a complementary profile here that almost works as a secondary biography in its own right. Blakeslee escorts readers up close to interpack conflict as well as human enemies of wolf preservation.
In the main, Blakeslee’s well-rendered story will be familiar to anyone who has followed the Yellowstone wolves, but those who have not will find this a solid overview of recent events—evenhanded but clearly and rightly on the side of the wolves.