Winter’s Song: Wolf Howls Fill the Yellowstone Landscape in January
“Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf,” wrote philosopher, forester, and conservationist Aldo Leopold. The words appeared in his famous essay “Thinking Like a Mountain,” which eloquently examines the presence—or lack of—wolves in the environment and how it affects deforestation of the landscape.
Here in Yellowstone, January marks the month gray wolves were restored in 1995 after a nearly 70-year absence from the ecosystem. Scientists here study every day how bringing back wolves affects everything from wildlife to foliage to rivers and streams. But the presence of this apex predator wasn’t always so carefully studied and celebrated.
Starting at the turn of the 20th century, wolves and many other predators were hunted, trapped, and poisoned. They were obliterated from the greater Yellowstone landscape—and from most of North America in general—by a variety of interests, including Aldo Leopold. To many, this was part of a grandiose effort to prevent wild elk and deer, as well as domestic sheep and cattle, from falling prey. Leopold, surprisingly to some, took part in the culling until a gradual change of conscience led him to reevaluate the relationships between wolves, the natural environment at large, and how we interact in the whole big picture as humans.
The years since “Thinking Like a Mountain”—an essay within Leopold’s larger “A Sand County Almanac: and Sketches Here and There”—was published in 1949 have progressed: for both man and mountain. And with that progression has come a clarity that Leopold was accurate when he argued wolves and other predators play an integral part in a healthy ecosystem—and planet.
Which leads us to our relationship with wolves in Yellowstone today. Visitors travel from across the globe to catch a glimpse of the wild creatures; landowners outside park boundaries navigate how to raise livestock in the midst of predators; and the states of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho research what should and/or shouldn’t happen in terms of wolf hunts, which help provide a livelihood for some elk outfitting families affected by expected declines in elk numbers following the wolf restoration.
At Yellowstone Wild, we seek not only to introduce our guests to all of these conversations, stories, and viewpoints, but also to provide space for visitors to digest these stories and to witness these animals in their natural environments. Perhaps most importantly, we encourage all our guests to remain active participants in the discussions determining the fate of all the wild creatures inhabiting greater Yellowstone.
So why is the wolf in this video howling? You tell us. Perhaps it is seeking members of its pack, or announcing the location of a carcass. It could be defining a territorial boundary to other wolf packs that might impose. Quite possibly, the wolf is howling in an attempt to find a mate. Or maybe—just maybe—the wolf is howling simply because it has chosen to sing its winter song, a song we hope continues to reverberate across the landscape throughout eternity. Then, given more time and context, we too might possibly obtain the objectivity of Leopold’s mountain.
To watch a two-minute video of a wild wolf howling in Yellowstone National Park as witnessed by our guests on a winter tour please click here.
Chelsea DeWeese is an assistant general manager at Yellowstone Wild Tours and lifelong Yellowstone-area resident. Photos and videos are provided courtesy of Yellowstone Wild Guide Matt DeMassino. All photos and video were taken from a safe and respectful distance through spotting scopes and other optics. To learn more about the Yellowstone Wild team please click here.