American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee is the history of the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone. Blakeslee is a writer-at-large for Texas Monthly. His first book, Tulia, was a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award and won the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, the Texas Institute of Letters non-fiction prize, and was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2005. The Washington Post called it one of the most important books about wrongful convictions ever written.
The America used to be home to half a million of wolves. Eradication programs were so successful that by 1960 there was only a handful left in Northern Minnesota and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In 1995, wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park. Removing the wolves, originally, seemed to be a way to protect the herbivore populations. People came to the park to see the elk and surrounding areas counted on elk to supplement their meat intake and an economy grew around lodges and supporting businesses that relied on elk hunters from outside the areas. Ranches, too, had pushed for the eradication wolves to protect their cattle. Yellowstone, however, was having a problem. Overpopulation of elk stripped vegetation forcing out other species.
The wolves were brought in from Canada and corralled in the park to help build a sense of home and territory. They took to their new home, reproduced, and formed packs. The wolf population spiked and the elk population dropped; soon a natural equilibrium was established. Rick McIntyre was the park ranger who took to the wolf program. He went on to watch and compile data on all the packs and some of the individual wolves. To say he was dedicated is an understatement; he reported every single day over a ten year period. Much of what is known about the wolves in Yellowstone is because of McIntyre.
Wolf O-Six is the star of the book. She is an alpha female and part of the third generation born at Yellowstone. Her name O-Six was an identifier of the year of her birth 2006. She became a favorite of wolf watchers and also became a social media favorite. Perhaps half the book is dedicated to her and her interactions in with other wolves. The repopulating wolves changed the park. The elk population stabilized and other species returned. Beavers returned and other native species worked their way back in and others grew smaller once the natural balance returned.
The other half of the book concerns politics, ranchers, and local hunting businesses. Wolves are seen as a threat to ranchers and their herds although wolves played a very minor role in the loss of any livestock —.02% of cattle loss. Local hunting businesses did suffer since shooting elk required some effort. It was no longer as easy as picking one out of a catalog. The politics ranged from a local level to national level and q wolf hunting rider even made its way into a national budget. Wolves were seen as the enemy in areas surrounding the park. The few and impact were irrational and not based on facts. Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming worked to legalize wolf hunting to ease fears of the locals and it became a long battle between states and the federal government.
Blakeslee writes an interesting story that is hard to put down. It is written in narrative fiction style but it does come with a fairly detailed bibliography and broken down by chapters. The writing appears to be factual and based on first-person experiences and observations. The author does not insert his opinions as facts in the book. A fast-moving piece of nonfiction that reads like a novel. Very well done.