Why study wolves and fire?
I saw wolves hunting on my land one day, and later heard a group of adult wolves with pups howling—evidence that they had formed a pack. The deer and elk became much more alert to avoid them. Soon our heavily browsed meadow became lush with shrubs and trees. As wolves returned, so did fire. Several wildfires revitalized the overgrown forests that hadn’t burned in decades. I saw how the combination of wolves and fire enabled these forests to thrive. These fascinating relationships inspired me to study how wolves and fire touch everything in nature.
A memorable moment in the field:
One May, we were measuring plants and how elk used the land in the area. All day we’d heard wolves howling. It began to snow, so we pulled our parka hoods up. When we turned to check our transect tape a few minutes later, there was a dead elk lying behind us. Our hoods and the wind had prevented us from hearing the kill, which happened only 200 yards away. We investigated and saw that the wolves had already taken quite a bit of meat and left. When we resumed work the next morning, we watched a grizzly bear feast on the leftovers. A Steller’s jay and a bald eagle soon tried to scavenge meat. Later we saw a coyote trotting by with an elk leg in its mouth. This taught me that wolves feed whole food webs.