Bear Valley and the Landmark Pack
© Suzanne Laverty
My favorite spot in Idaho is a place called Bear Valley. It is a series of meadows surrounded by beautiful blue mountains.
In 1991, I had my first experience with wild wolves there. We had received reports of wolves in the area for several weeks. Biologists looked for them but could not find a trace. I went up there, stood beside a river at dusk on a June evening... and howled for them. It was the first time I had tried howling from the heart - rather than just technique. In my mind, I asked them "Where are you?" Nothing but the bugle of elk and the honk of Canada geese responded.
After about 15 minutes I went a few hundred yards back into the forest and started to build a campfire. As I busied myself preparing camp, the woods suddenly filled with the chorus of wolves. I stood, listened, and was completely enchanted by their song. I could tell by their nearness that they were howling right to the spot I had been a half hour earlier. Before I could even think I began howling with them. Tears streaming down my face... For over 10 minutes we howled together... It was an incredible honor. Then a wolf barked the warning bark (two short deep barks) and the pack fell silent. Soon my slow human ears picked up the sound of a truck heading down the dirt road. The wolves had quietly slipped away.
In 1995, the first wolves were reintroduced from Canada into Idaho. We flew them into a remote drainage well north of Bear Valley. But soon after the release, a pair of wolves wandered southward and settled there. This male and female were among the first of the new wolves to pair... an early sign the recovery effort was working.
School children adopted and named many of the wolves. The alpha female became "Bee-yah" meaning "mother" in Shoshone Bannock. The alpha male was named Keea. Bee-yah was named by a local elementary school teacher and her class. The teacher was one of my best friends... Carol Ragan. Carol was killed over a year ago in a motorcycle hit and run accident by a drunk driver. She was adored by her students... and they kept following Bee-yah's progress in honor of Carol and her love for the wolves. Bee-yah became the first mother of pups born here in Idaho in over 50 years. She and Keea raised 8 pups and had just given birth to a new litter this April. And they stayed away from livestock. Bear Valley was once again home to wolves, and the livestock continued to graze peacefully.
Last summer, my family camped in the very spot I had encountered the first wolf pack in 1991. Before dawn we were awoken by five owls hooting loudly around our camp. We laid snuggled in our tent listening as the owls called to each other. Soon elk bugled and the Canada geese began honking their morning call. Sandhill cranes joined in the morning chorus, whooping their playful song, followed by an energetic yodel of coyotes yipping. As I lay there with my eyes closed, my five year old daughter sleepily stirring next to me, I held my breath... hoping for the call that would complete the dawn serenade. Suddenly, the valley was filled with wolf song. All the other songs stopped... as if every ear tuned to the wolves. As the sun broke over the horizon, the wolves howled loud and long... a sound of celebration to begin the day. Again my tears silently gave thanks for the honor to be among them.
Today I learned that Bee-yah and Keea were killed and that their bodies were discovered along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Since these wolves were denning, it appears that Bee-yah's young pups may also have died. The deaths are under investigation by the US Fish & Wildlife Service and we won't know the exact cause of death until the autopsy is completed by the wildlife forensic lab in Ashland, Oregon.
No known livestock losses... no threats to humans. Many hunters and hikers even reported hearing them and appreciating their howl once again in the wilderness.
It appears that these wolves met with foul play but we will wait to hear the cause of death before jumping to conclusions. If they were illegally killed, the Wolf Recovery Foundation will take action to see justice is served. For now, we can only hope and pray the rest of the pack is safe.
Picture of "Bear Valley", © Ralph Maughan
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