It was 1978, and there had been no resident timber wolves in Wisconsin for twenty years. Still, packs were active in neighboring Minnesota, and there was the occasional rumor from Wisconsin’s northwestern counties of wolf sign or sightings. Had wolves returned on their own to Wisconsin? Richard Thiel, then a college student with a passion for wolves, was determined to find out.
Thus begins Keepers of the Wolves, Thiel’s tale of his ten years at the center of efforts to track and protect the recovery of wolves in Northern Wisconsin. From his early efforts as a student enthusiast to his departure in 1989 from the post of wolf biologist for the Department of Natural Resources, Thiel conveys the wonder, frustrations, humor, and everyday hard work of field biologists, as well as the politics and public relations pitfalls that so often accompany their profession.
We share in the excitement as Thiel and his colleagues find wolf tracks in the snow, howl in the forest night and are answered back, learn to safely trap wolves to attach radio collars, and track the packs’ ranges by air from a cramped Piper Cub. We follow the stories of individual wolves and their packs as pups are born and die, wolves are shot by accident and by intent, ravages of canine parvovirus and hard winters take their toll, and young adults move on to new ranges. Believing he had left his beloved wolves behind, Thiel takes a new job as an environmental educator in central Wisconsin, but soon wolves follow. By 1999, there were an estimated 200 timber wolves in 54 packs in Wisconsin.
This is a sequel to Dick Thiel's 1994 book, The Timber Wolf in Wisconsin: The Death and Life of a Majestic Predator. That book traced the wolf's history in Wisconsin, its near extinction, and the initial efforts to reestablish it in our state. Thiel's new book looks at how successful that program has been.