Interviewer How did you become interested in wolves?
Laurie Lyman Several years ago back in the early 90's I started watching films of wolves on television, and it captivated me. I was really interested in the society of wolves, how they work together as a family unit, and the individual personalities of each wolf. And it just attracted me right away and I just became totally involved with them, so it's been since the early 90's I would say that I picked up on them and they just sucked me right in.
Interviewer What have you learned about the personalities of wolves?
Laurie Lyman Oh my gosh, every personality is different, again, so much like humans that function in a group or in a family. Some are loners. Some are caregivers. Some are more aggressive than others. Some are kinder. And they lead so differently, the leaders of the pack. You see wolves that lead with such power, but with very little aggression, and so they're all different, and it's so similar to humans. I taught school for years, and watching wolves is like watching children on a playground. To me it's very similar. A lot of different personalities out there and a lot of different stages in their life, and you know all of them acting individually, so it's fascinating.
Interviewer Should wolves be hunted?
Laurie Lyman I believe that wolves can be hunted, yes, and that was how they came back. They were reintroduced under the assumption that there would be a hunt. So yes I think the wolves can sustain a hunt and still maintain numbers. My only problem with the hunt is the lack of science that goes into the management of wolves and how they're hunted and the numbers, say for instance, and the time of year. Those kinds of things I think need to be looked at more carefully, and so yes I do agree with the hunt and I think the wolves can sustain very well with the hunt. It's the management and how they're doing the hunt that gives me reservation about it.
Interviewer Talk specifically about the Cottonwood wolves. How were they killed?
Laurie Lyman Two of the Cottonwood wolves were killed by hunters in a legal hunt; one just up the north border, well both of them actually at the north border of the park. It was quite a surprise to all of us. Of course it was the first hunt in a long long time, and it was on the first or second day, and it was pretty devastating to many of us that had been around the wolves, worked with the wolves, and to have them just gone. But it was the mother wolf, the alpha female and her daughter that she had had in another pack that had gone to the cottonwoods with her. And so yes, they were killed on the outside of the park during a legal hunt.
Interviewer What was lost with their deaths?
Laurie Lyman Well so much was lost in all of the research that had been put into her. We had been watching 527, the alpha female, for seven years. She was born into the Druid Pack then joined her sister in the Slough Creek pack, had bred and had pups there, and shed gone from there then to Hellroaring, (?) and became the Cottonwood alpha female, and had built a nice sized pack there. And they were actually doing very very well in a place where wolves had not done very well. They would get there and be there for a few years and then would run into other packs and just were not able to make it. She was making it. I think it was mainly because she was a little further north and she was doing so well. And she was the furthest away pack we'd get a visual on from the road, so we didn't need to fly in the plane to see her. We could still see behavior, but she was so unaffected and so far away from the road or human activity. And so it was a big loss for research and the people who watched her.
Interviewer How important are wolves to the tourism of Yellowstone?
Laurie Lyman Wolves are so important to tourism here, and I think they've taken survey and they've shown that over and over again. You can talk to shopkeepers and businesses in the communities that surround the park, and so much tourism has to do with wolves here. You can tell by the summer. We have, you know hundreds and hundreds of people come through to see the wolves. In the wintertime the turnouts, the pullouts can't even handle the visitors that come through to see wolves in the winter in their beautiful coats. So it is a huge huge attraction to the park, and I think that their numbers are getting lower and maybe not as easy to see. I'm hoping people still continue to come and persevere and be able to see that wonderful wildness of the wolves.
Interviewer What would you say to those that hate wolves?
Laurie Lyman *** Well that's a hard question to talk to people who hate wolves. I guess I would start out by saying that I understand, because we know so much about all of the tales that have been told about wolves, and how we grew up and how wolves are pictured and how we form our ideas about wolves. And you can't blame people when they're born and raised with those ideas and born and raised in families that don't like wolves, either because they have cattle or they're hunters, or whatever their prejudice against wolves are. So I guess I would start out with an understanding that yes, I understand that they have this feeling about wolves, but could we tell them about them? Could I tell you a little bit about their society? Would you be willing to look at another side of the wolves? And that's what we try to do on the side of the road here as wolf advocates that watch them is to show people and let them see into the wolf's world through our scopes and gain a better understanding of them. And I think with understanding and knowledge there would be more acceptance of them. We see that in the young. We see that in the youth--the glimmers are there.
Interviewer What do wolves mean to the ecosystem of Yellowstone?
Laurie Lyman Well they're a keystone predator, and we need them badly. Everyone could see that the wolf is a keystone predator that's at the top of the food chain affecting everything below, and before the wolves came to Yellowstone, back to Yellowstone; the elk population was exploding in the park. They had stopped culling them. The rangers had stopped culling them, and they had let their numbers grow. Everything in the park was so overgrazed, you know willows and saplings and everything was just down to the nubs, simply because there were just so many ungulates on the ground. And so with the wolves, when they came back, they equalized everything out again so that we started to see a return of ecosystems that were gone basically--the songbirds, the beavers, the fox. All of those became vibrant again, and the aspen, the amount of growth in the aspen is just unbelievable; to go to the aspen fields and you see where the new ones have been able to grow since the wolves have been back. So yes, I mean that's why they're called a keystone predator. They're key to the ecosystem. Ungulates become overpopulated. It's not even good for them. And it allowed… I always feel like it allowed Yellowstone to breathe again. It was sort of suffocated by, like I said, the overgrazing, and it allowed it to open up and breathe and grow.
Interviewer How do you feel about the death of a single wolf, one that you've known? Does it feel like a family member you've lost?
Laurie Lyman Well when you hear a wolf has been killed, especially one that you've known all of their lives, it is hard. I've been out here for seven years now living here watching the wolves just about 365 days of the year. So yes the individual wolves do become very familiar, and I think that would happen with just about everyone, but since I've been here for such a long time I see it in the large, the whole frame of things. As long as they're not killed by hunters, when it is in the natural world and they're killed by other wolves, they die of disease, they're kicked by an animal--that natural death is much more acceptable than those killed by a gun. That is harder, and I think that over the years you become more accepting of when wolves die and seeing the big picture if it's a natural death.