Mowat's Spirit of the Wolf in the South Selkirk Mountains

Sam Edmonds, Conservation Photographer & WDL Campaign Photographer

Sam Edmonds, Conservation Photographer & WDL Campaign Photographer

Commentary by Sam Edmonds

The importance of Farley Mowat's canonical work Never Cry Wolf is well documented in Canadian culture. In many ways, the recount of a government naturalist sent to investigate the behavior of wolves and the decline of caribou in the farthest reaches of Canadian wilderness directly addresses the lives of a nation of people whose choice of latitude at which to survive has forged so precarious a relationship with wild nature. In almost stark contrast to the Londonian Klondike that aesthetics our perception of lupine species, the context of Mowat's story initially shrouds our relationship with wolves in a cloud of cold pragmatism and bureaucracy. But the writer's exposure to the familial happiness and innocent existence of canis lupis quickly quells any reader's ominous conception of the canids. It is in this way that Mowat's sentiment has once again been validated as the current government of British Columbia assails wolves in the name of rigorous anthropocentrism. And again, Canadians are forced to bear witness to the injustices born of economic untruths and callous disregard.

During our time in the south east of "British Columbia", the majority of our days were spent tracking wolves whose territory we believed lay just to the east of the Kootenay Pass. Over time, we began to preempt where we might find signs of these evasive animals and just as Mowat's relationship with the pack at Wolf House Bay blossomed over time, as did ours with a solitary yet unseen wolf nicknamed "Ghost". On a particularly foggy day, a chance encounter with a member of the Caribou Recovery Program uncovered information about the tax­payer funded cull that detailed usage of the "Judas Wolf" method ­ an archaic practice now deplored by most wildlife management authorities that facilitates the efficacy of culling programs by leaving a single subordinate male wolf perpetually collared while any accumulated members of his pack are repeatedly killed throughout the duration of a season.

This was how we knew Ghost was alone.

While Mowat's interaction with wolves in Canada's north came of an almost instantaneous sighting after his landing in sub­arctic tundra, among the steep slopes and dense coniferous forest of the Selkirks, our only interaction with Ghost came in the form of footprints in last night's snow; mounds of fur and bone at a kill site; week old stories of sightings by local loggers. Not unlike Amarok himself, for us this elusive canid became the unseen archetype of lupines; the spirit of the wolf in the South Selkirk Mountains.

The boundaries of Ghosts territory were ostensibly marked by the US border to our South and an active hauling road to the east and repetitive travel upon the latter soon afforded us a glimpse as to the ephemeral lives of trees in the area. One week we hiked amongst towering Spruce and Douglas Firs only to find them severed at the base upon our return days later. While the wolves of this area are being blamed for the decline in caribou numbers, we hiked among the aftermath of an industry that is clearing their habitat hectares at a time and the temptation to quote Mowat strikes us again: “Once [wolves] have entered timber, they are exposed to a concentrated, highly skilled and furious assault from men.”

In the pre­dawn light of our last day tracking him, while the sky was like blue ink, we heard Ghost howl. After weeks of following ungulates through cut blocks, watching coyotes and elk roam the snow-­covered potato fields, we heard our first tangible sign that Ghost was in our presence, just across the creek. And in light of moral frostbite from the cold politics of such a volatile and fiercely debated issue, we were warmed by the voice of whom was really threatened.

But we were the only ones that howled back.

It was in this realization, at the close of our time in the Kootenays, that the injustice suffered by wolves at the hands of irrationality, speciesism and betrayal became so clear. As recounted to him by his friend Ootek, Mowat's tutored notion of Amarok became unhindered by the bounds of any purely mythical design in place of a realization of Amarok's ecological nobility that every wolf embodies. For Mowat, the truth that abounds in the observation of wild nature was enough to sway his preconception of lupine ferocity and instead prompt reflection upon the hubris of his own species. As he concludes: "this is why the caribou and the wolf are one; for the caribou feeds the wolf but it is the wolf who keeps the caribou strong."