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Howl of the Wolf

A solo canoe on Lake Alice in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota, USA.

Usually, I keep PaddlingLight free of controversial issues, but occasionally when something occurs that affects an integral part of the wilderness exploration experience, such as When They Want to Take Away Wilderness (read it before you vote this year), I feel like I need to write something to send out to all the readers and visitors of PaddlingLight (over 600 via email and rss and over 20,000 unique visitors a month). Now, Minnesota’s canoe country and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, one of the premier canoeing destinations in the world, faces a threat to the wilderness experience. Today, Minnesota begins a 3,600-hunter, wolf hunt with the goal of killing 400 wolves a year. Once the DNR got it into its head that there was going to be a wolf hunt, they ignored the majority of Minnesotans and just rammed the hunt through. I’ll outline a few points backed up by research, facts and science why a hunt isn’t needed below. I doubt we’ll be able to ever stop this hunt until the wolves end up back on the endangered species list.

Below that is a story that I wrote and have been holding back to release with others. I call this style of story a mythologized autobiographical story. Some of the story actually happened, including the wolf encounters. This encounter changed my life and is one of the reasons that I left a high-paying job to live in canoe country. Without seeing a wolf on that trip, I might not have changed my life for the better, started my own business and even this website.

Reasons that the Wolf Hunt Isn’t Needed

The reasons, backed by research, facts and science, that the hunt wasn’t needed:

  • It’s not needed for population control, because the wolf population, the only remaining original wolf population remaining in the lower 48, is stable in size and has been for 10 years. It’s not growing!
  • In 2011, on 88 verified livestock animals were taken by wolves, and the owners were monetarily compensated. A hunt is not a guarantee that livestock will not be taken — only extermination will (and that’s what some of the special interest groups pushing the hunt have traditionally pushed for). Even the state’s own expert, L. David Mech, PhD stated that a wolf hunting and trapping season is not a solution to livestock-wolf conflicts. The DNR is already eliminating or controlling problem animals that take livestock.
  • Wolves control diseases in their prey by eating the weaker animals. There’s direct evidence that they control the spread of chronic wasting disease (think mad cow for deer) and Lyme disease (the north shore is now a high risk area for Lyme disease due to climate change).
  • Wolves generate $400 million in tourism EVERY year. It’s cool and exciting to see a wolf. I’ve seen lots of them near where I live and it’s really exciting. Hearing them howl can be a life changing experience. I recently had one howl so close to where I was taking night photos that I doubt I’ll every forget it.
  • The DNR doesn’t understand the impact of killing 400 wolves a year, because they haven’t done the research. This hunt was pushed by special interest that traditionally have been for eliminating wolves.
  • Minnesotan’s value wolves and find them significant for future generations. Wildlife enthusiasts outnumber hunters and trappers in Minnesota roughly 4:1 and almost 80% of DNR survey respondents, including hunters, oppose the shooting and trapping of wolves in Minnesota. This again points to special interests pushing a hunt through cronies in the DNR that Minnesotans on a whole don’t want.
  • Native American tribes consider the wolf sacred and have banned hunting on their lands, unfortunately, not all the land on a reservation is owned by the tribe, so the DNR is allowing hunting within tribal boundaries marring a generally positive relationship between Minnesota and the tribes. Combine this with the DNR violation of treaty rights when it comes to fishing and the DNR is starting to look like the single worst Minnesota agency in regards to tribal relations. Maybe someone ought to be removed from the DNR to fix this issue.
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The Story: Howl of the Wolf

It’s said that looking into the eyes of the wolf changes a person. They say that there is a mixing of souls, and that someone can have his spirit joined forever with a wolf. When this happens, he becomes part-wolf part-man. I’ve once met someone that joined with a wolf, and his story began in the fall.


In the center of the dirt road stood a gray wolf — a big gray wolf. In the Northwoods, it’s not unusual to see a wolf on the back roads, but seeing one that stood as high as his door windows and one that just stood in the center of the road was unusual. Ted stopped his car and stared at the wolf, a slight shroud of fog separated them, but that wolf looked Ted directly into his eyes and Ted knew that meant something.

Ted had driven up to the Northwoods from the city with a solo canoe strapped to the top of his Corolla, this was his annual fall canoe trip to the wilderness, but this year, all his friends had other plans, so he decided to do his first 10-day solo trip. Ted worked most of the year as a mid-level manager for a sporting goods company. He put in 50 to 60 hours a week, and he joked that he got to sell the stuff — millions of dollars of the every type of gear on the market — but never had the time to enjoy using it. His waist reflected this with a tire that had steadily grown over the past seven years.

The fall in the Northwoods can be chilly or warm, sunny or cloudy, it can snow, and it can rain, but Ted wasn’t deterred. He couldn’t wait to get the canoe to the entry point, load his lightweight gear into the boat and paddle off with nothing to worry about and no one to talk to for the next 10 days. He had been looking forward to spending his hard earned vacation this way for the entire year. But now a wolf blocked his path.

Self-portait silhouette while taking a twilight solo paddle on Ogishkemuncie Lake.Their eyes remained locked for an eternity until the wolf, still locking his gaze into Ted’s eyes disappeared into the mist and golden-leafed aspen on the side of the road. Ted wiped his eyes to make sure he had actually seen the wolf, and then he got out of the car to look for paw prints to make a picture of to take home. All he found was gravel, so it was back into the car and a quick drive down the road to the put in.

He unloaded his golden Kevlar canoe, and it was so light that he almost hefted it around with just one hand. It was the finest solo canoe that money could buy, and to top it off, he had used his dealer connections to have this one custom made extra light. His pack was already loaded, so after dipping the bow of his canoe into the cold but crystal clear lake, he plopped his lightweight pack in, grabbed his 8-ounce paddle and shoved off. The canoe sliced through the water with a light glide. Ted smiled.

He was finally away from the shore, his car, and off into the boreal forest of the great northern wilderness. In front of him for the next ten days were only pines, spruce, fir, birch, and aspen covered shorelines surrounding the system of over 1,000 lakes. He felt free.

The first day ended after a long portage across a muddy, wet trail. Ted paddled a short distance to this new lake to a campsite, pulled the canoe ashore and unloaded it. He flipped the canoe over and then tied it to a tree.  He set up camp in less than 10 minutes, staked out his tarp, laid his sleeping bag on a mattress under the tarp, and quickly cooked a meal of pasta over a homemade pop-can stove – the lightest stove available. The rain started shortly after the meal had warmed his belly, so he crawled under the tarp and watched the droplets of water splash against the gray tarp until dusk turned day to night and he fell asleep.

In the morning, the rain continued. It felt like an all-day soaker, so Ted wasn’t motivated to get into his rain clothing and spend the day paddling the canoe, but it was what he came to do, so he made a quick breakfast of instant oatmeal. Then he took down camp and launched out towards his goal for the day. He would have to make it to the beginning of the Frost River today if he still were to make it to his turn around point on time.

The second day was miserable with the rain sheets constantly coming across the lakes and assaulting him. He paddled, nose first, leaning into the wind. Stroke after hard won stroke moved him towards the campsite at the end of the day. Each portage tested his nerve. At one point, he slipped, his Kevlar canoe crashed into a tree, scratching the new surface. He looked at the ground for every other portage of the day so he could avoid the slippery rocks. Finally, at the end of the day the rain lifted, and he made it to the campsite. He was beat and leaned against his canoe for a time before looking around at the lake he had just crossed. The surface was smooth and flat, a cold breeze blowing over the birch wasn’t causing a stir. He set up camp and enjoyed the sandy beach — one of the few in the Northwoods where most shores were made from hard Canadian Shield granite. After dinner, he went to sleep early.

In the middle of the night, in a flash of light, he awoke to the log holding his tarp up crashing down and glancing off of his head. The rain and thunder were crashing around him, and the waves smashed against the sand of the shore. This felt like no ordinary storm. He quickly fixed the tarp, and then sat under it rubbing his head where the log had hit him. Looking out from under the tarp, he thought he could see something from the safety of the trees staring back at him. He felt the heavy weight of fear close around him.

In the morning, he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was watching him, but whenever he’d look around, he didn’t see anything. The feeling lasted all day as he floated down the Frost River, over easy riffles and rapids and portaging past the just-turned yellow birch trees. It was an idyllic day until late afternoon when the wind blew in and whipped up a storm. For many moments he struggled against the strong wind getting nowhere as he poured all his strength into moving forward. By the time he reached the next camp, all his energy had left him. He climbed under his tarp, skipped dinner, and slept to the sleet, rain, and wind pelting his tarp. He dreamt of a pack of wolves tearing at his tarp and trying to get at him. It woke him early in the morning. He was ravished and made a large breakfast, finishing it just before the morning’s storm came in.

A tent under startrails in the BWCA. Red Rock Bay on Sag.For the next several days, he struggled into the wind. He worked across lakes, over portages, hiding in the comfort of his rain jacket. Each day, the wind blew harder, the weather got colder, the rain wetter. Each day, he put his best face forward. He was beginning to feel alone and lost in the woods, although he knew exactly where he was on the map. And over those several days, he felt like something was watching him.

One morning, the fog had settled in, and he struck off into it. The fog was thick, but he knew it would disappear. It did at noon with a black cloud, which plowed over the trees along the shore he paddled. It was coming from the northwest, and from looking on the map, by midday, his route would run perpendicular to the wind and then it would switch around and run with the wind. He was looking forward to that change. Finally, he wouldn’t have to fight with the wind; it would help him get back to the car. The only thing that could stop him was two large lakes. And by the time he reached them, they were boiling with shoulder-high waves and white caps. The wind ran a gale force across the water. He was determined to get across them. And do it quickly, so we set off down the east shores, the waves up to his shoulders as he paddled on. So, the whitecaps were breaking into his canoe, but on he went, until he was almost at the end of the lake and then the largest front came forward – dark and sounding like a train heading his way. He turned the nose of his canoe inland and surfed the waves to the shore, dodging rocks before landing.

On shore, he had to hide behind a tree to stay warm, and then slowly, he resigned himself to pulling out his tarp, out his sleeping bag, out his stove. He was wind bound, and the woods had beaten him. This beach was his defeat. Through the night the wind howled, the snow fell and he stared, awake at the gray tarp. The snow continued, but the wind died in the morning, so he set off towards the car – now days away. Heading home, he thought.

During the day, the snow continued, but he paddled on, portaged under a widow maker, he noted that was ready to fall, and then out onto a mile-wide lake in the snow. During the crossing by compass, he became disorientated. The map didn’t make sense, the compass was pointing the wrong way, and the shoreline was blocked out completely by the blowing snow. He wondered if the widow maker had fallen on him, and he was just a ghost of himself passing to the next life.

But then a light flashed in front of him. And he heard a howl of a wolf in the wind. It swirled around him, and he followed the howl to shore.

As he approached the shore, he swore that he saw a big lone wolf staring at him from in the snowstorm. Once he landed the wolf was gone, the snow quit, and the air felt crisp, cold, and he felt whole. He slowed down the return to the car and took a few extra days that he had built into his plan. The world seemed brighter and more alive to him. He could smell the pines, the spruce, the cedar, the musk of fall was in his nose, and he could smell the fullness of the earth.

When he returned to his car and loaded his boat, he looked back over the lake, and swore that he saw a canoeist that looked like himself heading into the northwoods. But, then that canoeist disappeared. Shortly after the trip, the north called to his soul, he quit his job, moved north, and people say whenever they see him, he’s accompanied by a wolf.

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  • Great article. Hope the Wisconsin hunt is halted; been against it since Day One. These are beautiful animals, and we have no right to destroy them.

  • Unfortunately we are going through the exact same thing here in Australia.
    For politically expedient reasons, hunters are now allowed in a large number of our National Parks too.

    Is it too much to ask just a little bit of nature is left in its natural state free from the arrogant selfishness of the human species!

  • Good article. I’ve been wondering how wolf hunting might affect pack dynamics- they are a much more social creature than anything that has been hunted before. And, I am a DNR employee (fish, not wildlife) so I keep pretty quiet about my opposition to this hunt.

  • Why does it always seem the loudest people are the most misinformed ones? I ask you and everyone else that opposes or supports this issue to ask the some of the people that have been affected by their growing population. Also ask the DNR. Then weigh the pros and cons of the situation and see which one makes more sense. There is never a perfect answer to the situation, but there is an answer that makes the most sense. Unless you inform yourself and be open minded this country will go down the drain more and more. For all you know the damage done by the wolves costs more to the state and the taxpayers than the tourism dollars brought in because of them. With Minnesota having the budget issues that it does this could be a major factor. There are some many possible reasons behind the state giving it’s citizens the option to hunt wolves that you must first do your research and become informed. I beg you all to do that before you make a misinformed and emotion filled claims. Think logically and with an open mind.

    • I agree that on many issues there isn’t a perfect answer, but on this one the answer that makes the most sense based on the research that I’ve done is that Minnesota should NOT have a wolf hunt. I also think that you and I have different values, because I value the wilderness experience written about by Leopold, Muir and Olson. Wolves are a integral part of the Minnesota northwoods experience, and have been for as far back as humans settled the area. I think that the loss of wolves does significant damage to America, Americans, the America culture and the America of 500 years from now. I also value standing behind my own convictions with my name, while you prefer the screen name “NotACityFolk.” The fact is that I’m not a city folk either. I live up the Gunflint Trail near Grand Marais, Minnesota in the heart of wolf country. Regardless of whether one lives in a city or not, this is a Minnesota issue that should be decided by all Minnesotans and not just those that can claim to be not a city folk, such as you and I.

      When looking critically and logically at all the evidence, I think most rational people would come down on the side of having no wolf hunt. I listed the main reasons that I’m against the wolf hunt at the start of this article. Those are the points, that after research, I thought made the most sense to me. You may notice that I’ve skipped the animal cruelty arguments, which some people may find as legitimate reasons as well. If you disagree then present an argument that proves that you’re right, because what you’re providing right now isn’t an argument, it’s an emotional plea.

      As far as wolf reimbursements costing more money than wolf tourism. If you have numbers, instead of just a suggestion, I’d love to see them. Personally, I’m not so sure based on what I’ve seen that some of the reimbursements aren’t fraud. For example, in Wisconsin since 1985 $428,000 was paid for hunting hounds supposedly taken while hunting. I don’t ask for a government handout when I break one of my kayaks or canoes while paddling. I think that there needs to be some personal responsibility taken here, because when you go into wolf country, you have to accept the risks that come with that journey.

      The way that I see the farm issue is this:

      1. Should the government or non-profits reimburse farmers/ranchers for wolf losses when farmers choose to do business in wolf country full well knowing that wolf losses could happen?
      2. Or should the farmers willing to farm in wolf country consider it the cost of doing business? And the government not give money to a special interest group?
      3. Should farmer pay for private insurance to keep the government out of it completely?

      If you’re a conservative, you have to be for argument number two or three, but I’m not, so I tend to agree with argument number one. Mainly, because it’s for the good of all Americans to keeps the wolves, and that’s not the fault of farmers. It’s a tough call.

      If we use the reimbursement numbers that I’ve seen, about $50,000 per year for reimbursement, wolf tourism brings in $399 million a year more, and I don’t think that the 3,600 hunters a year (many of whom are already hunting deer in the area and just decided to pick up a wolf license because they were going to be in the woods anyway) will bring an extra $111,000+ per hunter a year into the economy. (The DNR claims that the fees with getting a license bring in about $270,000. Still a long way away from the tourism money and may be one of the motivating factors for the DNR to approve the hunt so quickly — it brought in much needed money for balancing the state budget (again if you’re a conservative then this is considered a tax hike, which shouldn’t be used to balance the budget). In my mind, trying to balance the budget with fees from a hunt isn’t a reason to do it when science and Minnesotans says isn’t needed. Plus the tax revenue on wolf tourism is still higher). The fact is that the tourism dollars far outweigh any reimbursement and additional hunting revenue.

      At any rate, those are my thoughts.

      • Great comments Bryan! I agree with you 100%. You are able to put all of my thoughts into words very eloquently. Thank you!

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