Wolf!

OPINION — South Dakota has opened up wolf hunting West River.

For years, wandering wolves have had to keep their heads down along our eastern border with Minnesota, but western South Dakota wolves were protected.

The new federal delisting of the wolf from endangered species protection allows each individual state to manage emergent populations as they see fit.

Decades ago, my father and I shared a Black Hill’s wolf encounter.

It occurred on a windy September afternoon while we shared an archery elk hunt.

I had a bull that loved to bugle back at my calls but was content to stay at a distance.

I had asked Dad to come up the ridge to call and keep him talking as I worked my way in.

Dad wasn’t much for climbing by then, but still enjoyed the woods and being with me.

My folks had just moved from wolf country.

Minnesota has a population of nearly 3,000 wolves and while they mostly keep to themselves in the timbered north country,

Dad had ventured up there on a few deer hunts.

He should have been better prepared than I for our encounter.

The narrow logging trail that we were driving, twisted and turned so that you could never see more than 50 yards ahead.

As we rounded one particularly blind curve, we were treated to a vision that sent primordial shivers up each of our spines.

He was so tall!

I had elk on the brain and this wolf was more than large enough to resemble a 200-pound fall calf.  

I am a strong believer in inherited memories and the spread and intensity of this animal’s eyes triggered a response planted long ago in my family’s DNA.

It was a blend of respect and fear.

As a private in basic training, I was tutored by survivors of the Vietnam war.

Grizzled veterans of combat, they appraised each recruit in light of their ability to withstand or deliver an attack.

This wolf gave me the same expression.

I have seen it before on the face of angry mountain lions who wanted to stop any intrusion with a single look.

It said, “Back off, there is more trouble here than you can handle.”

For years I have doubted that I would ever see another.

Allowing hunters to shoot wolves on sight with no regard to a season or quota will almost guarantee that any wolf caught venturing into our area will be killed.

Our state has enough rugged badlands and breaks that a few could likely eke out a living.

But cars will hit a few more, and there is little likelihood that a resident population will ever be established.

Similar to the bears that are now caught on trail cameras, we will see the occasional visitors, but there is likely too much congestion and tourist traffic for many to survive for long.

But I could be wrong.

I wrote last month about Colorado’s voting in a wolf reintroduction plan.

The changing demographic of that state from a rural ranching and hunting mecca into a trendy techno coffee club crowd allowed the vote to pass on narrow margins.

Our state too has seen a sudden surge in new arrivals escaping from crowded metro areas. I wonder how long ranchers and hunters will be allowed to manage wolves here?

I admit to being trigger happy, that many a coyote that has wandered through my place has been deterred from ever returning.

Wolves threaten ranchers, livestock and deer, tribes that hold a privileged place in my heart, but I wonder if the next generation of South Dakotans will be as protective.

I’ve lived long enough to see eagles and owls go from threatened and protected and rarely observed to today’s daily seen roadkill that is allowed to be chopped up as acceptable loss to wind power generation.

As my neighbors increasingly change from ranchers to cyber business folk, as techno billionaires increasingly back faux meats over grass raised beef, South Dakota’s future becomes harder to decipher and the howling of wolves evermore likely.   

Perhaps I will meet another wolf.

The Speirs family has owned and operated Crow Creek Wildlife Management Service since 1996.

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