Walking With the Wolves in Golden, BC
In all my backcountry adventures, there are a few animals I wish to see, and some I would rather view from afar. Big mammals like black bears, deer, elk, and the like are fairly common and don’t pose too much of a threat in my experience. I’m actually disappointed when I don’t see these animals. Grizzly bears, cougars and wolves, on the other hand, are formidable predators I’d rather not come into close contact with. Seeing a big Grizzly right on my trail in the Alberta Rockies was an experience I won’t forget, and while exciting but uneventful in the end, knowing the bear stood between myself and the distant parking lot had the heart racing hard. The cougar, along with lynx and bobcat, now tops my list of animals to spot, but again, I don’t want to be anywhere near these wild cats when I do. I have long camera lenses, that’ll do.
About ten years ago I was camping with Sandra and some friends on the Squamish River, and we knew there were many animals around – fish carcasses, skat, fur, etc gave them away. We were hoping for a quiet night, and we had one. However, at dawn the next morning we both awoke sensing something was outside our tent. Gently peering through the fly, we saw three mature wolves not 10m from where we slept. We had just awoken – was this a dream? What are they doing out there? How come they don’t notice us, as quiet as we were? The wolves were moving along, their bodies almost motionless as their long legs propelling them along in a slow saunter. It was pure magic: the dawn light, the quiet sound of the river, the dreamlike state we felt we were in. Later, after having fallen asleep again, we awoke wondering if we had in fact dreamt it all. But no, tracks were a-plenty around our tent and along the shore of the river. This was a wildlife encounter that’s been etched into my mind.
Since then, I’ve been aching to see wolves at close range again. A hike to Cape Scott, home to a large and robust Grey Wolf pack, didn’t give us any sightings. It’s been quiet. A few years back my brother Jon found out about a wolf sanctuary near Golden called Northern Lights. They have a pack of wolves in their care, from many different backgrounds, mostly rescued from zoos and captive breeding programs in North America. There are eight wolves in acreages, and if you arrange in advance, you can go out into the bush with the two owners (the alphas of the pack) and walk with wolves in their natural environment. Jon bought me this excursion for my 40th birthday, and well, I have to say, this was an absolutely incredible experience! Owners Shelley and Casey took two of their wolves – Scrappy Dave and Flora – onto some Crown land in the Blaeberry Valley. They were released, and we stood fairly still, hands up by our armpits. Here come the wolves, scampering along right towards us. If they approach and are comfortable with your presence, you can reach down and touch their fur. I snuck a light touch. The ice was broken. We walked alongside these two wolves for a couple hours, snapping photo after photo along the way. Eventually the wolves were comfortable enough with us, they forgot we were there. We watched them snack on berries, run amok with each other, dig into critter holes. They posed next to us for photos and we had some licks and paws on our shoulders at one point (stay tuned for a behind the scenes blog post up next). Scrappy Dave disappeared for a spell, and came back covered in something disgusting. They think he found an old black bear carcass. His white fur covered in black sludge, and his demeanour more excitable. We had to end the walk at this point, wild instincts were kicking in.
Back at the centre, we heard an incredibly informative talk on wolves, their role in nature and conservation. We also learned how awful they are treated by just about everyone, including our government’s own conservation efforts. Grey wolves are killed regularly – and systematically – in BC and Alberta, shot from helicopters, snared and trapped through bounties we learned anyone can put up. Often no license required to kill a wolf. Hardly any questions asked. Hunters and trappers kill them so a wild wolf doesn’t take down an elk they would rather hunt for themselves. It’s a little sick. Lessons learned in Yellowstone show how important apex predators such as the Grey Wolf are for a balanced ecosystem. They are an essential part of the forest, a natural manager for grazing animals and habitat conservation. The bad rap they’ve been given over the years (big bad wolf anyone?) has led to a huge misunderstanding of their role in our natural environment and an unnecessary fear of the wolf and what they represent. I would recommend visiting the Northern Lights website to learn more, and take a visit to their centre next time you are near Golden. An illuminating, and thoroughly unique, wildlife experience I can’t recommend enough.
Blaeberry Valley, Golden, BC, 2016.
** Please note: I will be making archival prints available from this series. If you are interested in a print for yourself or as a gift, please get in touch with me for details. I’d love to create prints of these beautiful creatures for you. **
<click on the first image to view larger – recommended!>