Howling for Wolves in Maine —
“Wanted: a few dozen individuals to spend a night howling like wolves in Maine’s North Woods, and who won’t be scared off if they get a response,” ran the nut gaff of an article on the front page of the Bangor Daily. The piece continued: “The methodology to be used in the surveys is fairly simple: Go out into the woods at night, howl like a wolf and record the results.”
I read this article one morning . . .
A week later I found myself sitting in a room of the Maine Audubon Society that was packed with 40 Mainers who seemed overjoyed about finding an excuse to venture out into the north woods and howl like a wolves. The lot that sat around me in the presentation room wore long beards and flannel shirts, blue jeans, wild hair, safari hats, hawk feathers, and old wildlife t-shirts.
A collection of taxidermy animals sat comfortably around the walls of the room, ever looking upon a scene that could not have been made more for them with their dead plastic eyes. My idyllic surroundings were standing on the cusps of the surreal.
“This looks like a bunch of people who would go wolf calling,” my companion, Chaya – a native Mainer – whispered to me as we took our seats.
“Hey, these are your people,” I shot back quickly, before taking a good look at myself:
I was wearing a red flannel shirt, a leather vest, had a picture of a gorilla printed on my t-shirt, torn blue jeans, work boots, a Carhartt jacket, and had a long black beard hanging off of my face. I could not have fit in any better. I looked like a prospective wolf caller.
The introductory training, which would make us full fledged volunteers on the 2009 Wolf Inquiry Project, was about to begin. I dug out my notebook, which soon ate up the following scribbles:
- Looking for “wolf-like animals”
- two wolves killed in northeast in 1990’s
- wolves interbred with coyotes to make super coyotes
- wolves endangered 1969 – demoted to threatened 2003
- wolves eat coyotes in the west, but hump them in the east
- male wolves disperse – so it is possible for wolves to come to Maine from Canada – wolves could walk over St.Laurence when it ices over
- many wolves found in unexpected locations are often wolf/ dog hybrids released by people who couldn’t care for them.
Our job, as wolf callers — or, more appropriately, as callers for “wolf like” animals — was to help the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Service do an extensive survey of the north Maine woods in search of any evidence of large canids . . . which could possibly indicate wolves.
The coordinators of this project had their verbal dancing shoes on, and were sure to step to the beat of a carefully selected vocabulary. There are social issues related to the presence — or prospective presence — of wild canids in many areas that humans also inhabit, and these issues have the tendency to growing a very sticky sheen.
“We are looking for wolf-like animals . . .”
For some odd reason, many people seem to delight in shooting coyotes, or anything that looks like a coyote.
“They always show up dead,” spoke one of the project coordinators about the tendency for wolf sightings to be confirmed only after the animal has been turned into a carcass.
Perhaps this is because wild canids eat deer, perhaps it is because they eat livestock, perhaps it is because they eat children, perhaps this is because it is just plain fun to shoot things dead.
I can remember a time when my uncle was showing me a collection of photos which prominently featured a variety of coyotes corpses. There were pictures of dead coyotes in piles, dead coyotes posing next to manly men with guns, and I can distinctly remember a photo of a barn that had one full side cloaked with the furs of shot dead coyotes.
He was showing these photos off to me with pride.
“What do you have against coyotes?” I innocently asked my uncle, who was neither a rancher nor lived in a ranching area.
His answer was something to the effect of, “They eat children.”
They eat children? Really?
“Almost every recorded incident of a coyote attacking a human came as a result of being fed by humans,” a coyote specialist began her presentation at the wolf inquiry training.
“A fed coyote is a dead coyote.”
We were then given our wolf howling instructions: go way out into the northern wilderness from 10 PM to 2 AM, drive down old logging roads, stop at one mile intervals, step away from the vehicle, howl like a wolf into the night, and record anything that howls back.
This was a story.
This project soon became a running sort of joke between myself and the small group of individuals who happen to interact with me here in Maine.
“Going wolf howling? Hooowwwllll” they chided me.
“Yup, Hooooowwwwwllll!,” I chided myself.
Apparently, not only my humor impaired friends found this project somewhat laudable. The jock press caught wind of the story, and then blew its chunks all over their headlines. Yes, the mainstream presses gave the Wolf Inquiry Project full reign to roam through the syndication jungle of the USA, and this attention came to a head on the Regis and Kelly morning show.
Calls were coming in from all over the country, and this was evidently more than what the Wolf Inquiry Project bargained for. The nation seemed excited about the idea of humans calling for wolves in their own language — Howwwwllll!
“I don’t get it,” spoke a representative for the project, “they do these surveys all the time out west and they are no big deal.”
But she did not take into account that Americans seem to love the notion of the back-country, flannel clad, bearded, lumberjack, hermit, half nature thing, half man, moose riding Mainer, and there are few things better to confirm this status quo than running an article about a bunch of people in northern Maine going out into the middle of the wilderness hoping to commune with a lost tribe of wolves.
Likewise, the wolf calling training was carried out under the watchful eye of the news media — ever on the prowl for some breakout of action that could be contorted in a way to make us all look like idiots. But the coordinators of the Wolf Inquiry Project were far too wise for the media stooges with the cameras, and they kept the training straight forward, professional, and always delivered in proper soundbytes. I imagined a local news anchorman talking about what a “howl of a time” we are having in the north Maine woods, and concurred with the covert intentions of the project coordinators completely.
For this reason, we were not taught how to properly howl like a wolf.
“Wolves and coyotes respond to almost any sound that is howl or siren like,” a project representative told us. Perhaps in an attempt to curb our disappointment, he then explained how wolf surveys in the west often use hand cranked sirens rather than human generated howls. I must say that I was excited about being taught some old time wolf howls . . .
Rather, we were taught how to use a rig of recording gear. Just push this button, then that button, and when you hear a response push this button . . .
And a final set of instructions:
Avoid using highbeams
Don’t use flashlights to locate animals
Walk 100-200 meters into the woods
1 person howls, other records
if you get a response don’t stand there all night howling
We were now fully trained wolf howlers, fully prepared to venture out into the Maine woods in search of anything “wolf like.”