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Decade of the Wolf 

For those of us who have read Gary Ferguson's previous books or heard his speeches, there will be some odd moments reading Decade of the Wolf. Humming through his gorgeously melodic sentences, we'll come across an out-of-place pronoun. "The encounter was so vivid that the pilot, like me, seemed barely able to contain himself. 'Who-hoo!' he shouted. 'That was big stuff!' Admittedly, such meetings don't happen often -- I've been flying wolves for 25 years…"

The disconnect -- we know Gary; he hasn't been "flying wolves" for 25 years -- comes because the book is co-authored with Douglas W. Smith, head of the Yellowstone wolf project, and the "I" in the book is Smith. He just happens to speak in Ferguson's eloquent, lyrical voice.

The collaboration is a sound one, because in summarizing the ten years since wolves were first reintroduced in Yellowstone, Smith knows a helluva lot of science. The meaty middle of the book follows individual wolves and packs, building their stories into significant insights into wildlife biology. Perhaps most importantly, this book documents the huge web of (largely positive) impacts that wolf reintroduction has had on the natural wonders of Yellowstone.

For example, most Yellowstone elk are much more scared than they used to be. They now avoid several poor-visibility streamside feeding areas. With the elk gone, willows have flourished in those areas. With the willows, beaver have returned. And their beaver ponds have improved habitat for trout, muskrat, and even songbirds.

Smith, who's been with the project since the very first wolves were brought down from Alberta, knows all this science. And Ferguson knows how to convey it. We thus get a portrait of Yellowstone beyond "Ooh, look at that geyser!" We aren't just told that this region is the largest relatively-intact ecosystem in the temperate world -- we get to see it in action.

Yet as with all of Ferguson's works, perhaps its greatest strength is its evocation of the natural environment through language. After a summer when the Beartooth Highway was closed, meaning that I made far fewer journeys into Yellowstone than I usually might, these tales set in the Lamar and Pelican Valleys, on Blacktail Plateau, and along the Yellowstone Delta made me pine for the time coming soon when I can again experience that nearby jewel of America.

I'm always interested in feedback, via info at johnclaytonbooks...

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