What's the howling about?
By JEFF LUND
January 04, 2014
I’ve disappeared into the woods seeking deer or fish or just for a camping trip with some buddies in high school, but to have it be a part of my routine, a life outside of an occasional recreational visit interested me.
On the morning of the day everyone would be saying goodbye to 2013, Elijah Winrod, Dave Ryno and I headed north of Klawock to check their traplines. It was evident that they were on a different level of outdoorsing, not that it is saying much because of my 14 years out of the state, but though I grew up here, the here in which I grew up, was different than theirs.
The first day we went to two areas and it was obvious this was a wolf-running trail that looked like a human running path. They were around.
Dave and Elijah discussed the roaming patterns and how the wolves cycled through areas then we hiked up to muskeg and saw more prints, but no definitive trail. We did see a wolf’s work. A deer had been killed in one area, then dragged into an opening where it was more easily devoured. All that remained was hair and bones scratched by teeth, a reminder that Nature is just a violent and brutal as it is majestic and beautiful.
That evening we headed to the west side of the island where we spent the night and woke up early on the first day of the new year to check more traps.
At the first spot two of the traps had been dug out and dragged away. I tried to imagine wolves poking around, feeling something that wasn’t mud, digging, then removing the trap with its mouth without springing it. I knew wolves were smart, but I didn’t expect that level intellect.
After seeing how the wolves outwitted these experienced trappers, I would think the wolves which are trapped or counted are the...dull, or unlucky ones of the bunch. If I was a wolf, I’d be one of those.
Down the beach in a small grove of trees were two wolves in traps. Across a creek there was another. An hour away by skiff there was fourth. After a day of nothing, we had four wolves which would eventually go to market. Well, they had four, I was just there.
I learned a lot from the experience and about Alaska as a whole. It goes without saying that there is not just one way to do Alaska. There are fishermen, hunters, trappers, and those who do none and instead spend their hours in kayaks, climbing glaciers or photographing the state. One is not morally superior, it’s just the way things are.
I guess I too had been conditioned by popular campaigns to save the wolves and that wolves were victims, but hunting deer, fox, bear, birds, trapping small game and fish was okay either because of population density, or because few things are more impressive to watch than a howling wolf, or a pack running along the beach.
The TV and Internet tries to scare me into thinking that tomorrow the earth will be water and we’ll all grow gills like Kevin Costner or that Dave and Elijah will kill the last wolves on the island and will be pointed out in history books as some of the biggest jerks earth has ever known.
I haven’t met a wolf trapper who wants to kill them all, Dave and Elijah don’t want to either. They, like others, want to make sure wolves don’t decimate the deer population because with more and more hunters coming to the island to shoot them, bears picking off fawns and each wolf eating close to 100 deer per year, there’s only so much a deer population can endure before all of a sudden, “where’d the deer go?” becomes a reality. So they take out a few each season to prevent an almost predator less animal from procreating to the point of creating a problem.
Though I will probably never set a trap myself, to be a part of an excursion where the mission was to take dangerously beautiful, majestically murderous wolves was something I wanted. Not for the thrill, but because I wanted to see how people who go deeper into the wild live.
I didn’t get a simple answer to the debate about complex things like whether or not wolves should receive protection on Prince of Wales, but I’ve been out and I get it. I’ve seen wolves, and seen how experts without official titles pursue them.
If nothing else, I’ve got something more to write about.
Jeff Lund ©2014
Jeff Lund is a Teacher and Freelance Writer living in Klawock, Alaska