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October 2021

Grizzly Heart: Living Without Fear Among the Brown Bears of Kamchatka

An absorbing first-hand account of living with bears, from the acclaimed author of The Spirit Bear.

To many people, grizzlies are symbols of power and ferocity — creatures to be feared and, too often, killed. But Charlie Russell, who has had a forty-year relationship with bears, holds the controversial belief that it is possible to live with and truly understand bears in the wild. And for five years now, Russell and his partner, artist and photographer Maureen Enns, have spent summers on the Kamchatka peninsula, located on the northeast coast of Russia, and home of the densest population of brown bears in the world.

Grizzly Heart tells the remarkable story of how Russell and Enns have defied the preconceptions of wildlife officials and the general public by living unthreatened — and respected — among the grizzlies of Kamchatka. In an honest and immediate style, Russell tells of the trials and successes of their years in the field, from convincing Russian officials to allow them to study, to adopting three bear cubs left orphaned when their mother was killed by a hunter (and teaching these cubs how to survive in the wild), to raising environmental awareness through art.

Through a combination of careful study and personal dedication, Russell and Enns are persuading people to reconsider the age-old image of the grizzly bear as a ferocious man-eater and perpetual threat. Through their actions, they demonstrate that it is possible to forge a mutually respectful relationship with these majestic giants, and provide compelling reasons for altering our culture.

“We have been able to live beautifully with these animals, with no serious threat, because of what we’ve learned. Hopefully, sharing what we learn will help people — and be a big help to our bears, too.”

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September 2021

American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The enthralling true story of the rise and reign of O-Six, the celebrated Yellowstone wolf, and the people who loved or feared her.

Before men ruled the earth, there were wolves. Once abundant in North America, these majestic creatures were hunted to near extinction in the lower 48 states by the 1920s. But in recent decades, conservationists have brought wolves back to the Rockies, igniting a battle over the very soul of the West.

With novelistic detail, Nate Blakeslee tells the gripping story of one of these wolves, O-Six, a charismatic alpha female named for the year of her birth. Uncommonly powerful, with gray fur and faint black ovals around each eye, O-Six is a kind and merciful leader, a fiercely intelligent fighter, and a doting mother. She is beloved by wolf watchers, particularly renowned naturalist Rick McIntyre, and becomes something of a social media star, with followers around the world.

But as she raises her pups and protects her pack, O-Six is challenged on all fronts: by hunters, who compete with wolves for the elk they both prize; by cattle ranchers who are losing livestock and have the ear of politicians; and by other Yellowstone wolves who are vying for control of the park’s stunningly beautiful Lamar Valley.

These forces collide in American Wolf, a riveting multigenerational saga of hardship and triumph that tells a larger story about the ongoing cultural clash in the West—between those fighting for a vanishing way of life and those committed to restoring one of the country’s most iconic landscapes.

Questions

1. Did this book change how you think about wolves?⁠

2. What did you learn about wolf conservation?

My Thoughts

So first off, this book changed how I thought about wolves and also educated me on the history behind the ongoing wolf culls in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming that seek to reduce wolf populations by as much as 90 percent.

I really enjoyed how the author weaved together the story of 0-Six (the most famous wolf in the world who was shot and killed just outside the Yellowstone park boundary) based upon the daily accounts of the Wolf Watchers. As I was reading, it almost felt like I was there, watching the wolves as the story unfolding.

And as I was engrossed in the story, I developed a new appreciation for wolves. I haven’t had much experience with wild wolves and have had only a few fleeting sightings. I understand now just how intelligent they are to work together to hunt and to rear their young. And incredibly, just how resilient they are to all the pressures they face from other packs and wildlife, traffic, and the dangers of being killed immediately as they leave the unmarked park boundary of Yellowstone.

Before I read this book, I couldn’t comprehend what seemed like the barbaric slaughter of wolves in Idaho, Montano, and Wyoming. But I learned that these States never wanted wolves to be reintroduced in the first place, and that they’ve been seeking to kill off almost all wolves ever since. I also learned how the listing and delisting of wolves on the US’s Endangered Species List did not follow the science, and instead was treated as a political bargaining chip to get votes on other budgetary matters.

And lastly, I learned just how important wolves were to restoring balance to the Yellowstone ecosystem. When wolves were brought back to the park, they not only killed elk, but also changed their prey’s behavior patterns. The herbivores started to avoid areas like valleys and gorges where they could be easily hunted by predators. As a result, those areas began to regenerate, and species such as birds, beavers, mice and bears returned. Plant life once again thrived along the riverbanks and erosion decreased significantly. The stabilization of the riverbanks actually made the rivers and streams change course. With the reintroduction of just a small population of wolves, the landscape of the whole park transformed.

So in summary, I would highly recommend this book. Wolves are among the most vilified and misunderstood animals in history. Reading this book will change how you think about wolves.
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