The New Wolves
by Rick Bass
Lyons Press,
1998, 184 pages

In The New Wolves: The Return of the Mexican Wolf to the American Southwest, Rick Bass ambles pensively and passionately through the controversial ground in Arizona’s Blue Mountains where Mexican wolves are being reintroduced. He walks alongside a host of folks with divergent perspectives on the reintroduction effort: unflappable federal wildlife agents; bright-eyed students; newfangled “predator-friendly” ranchers; faithful volunteers; and a reintroduction foe who seems to have the wolves’ best interests at heart. Bass takes in all their views and paints them with empathy and respect, while never letting go of his own deeply held belief that wolves simply belong on this land.

He describes the historical process that vanquished the wolves and drove them from the Southwest, and tells how the land they left behind was pocked and diminished by decades of cattle overgrazing. He argues persuasively that the landscape can never fully recover or again be complete without these wild predators. Though he’s aware of the substantial obstacles to wolves reclaiming a home in this harsh land, he latches onto the instinct for survival that flashes in the animals’ eyes.

A message of irrepressible hope permeates Bass’s rich, lyrical book. Bass describes the hours he spent building pens for incoming wolves as “therapy for cynicism and burnout.” In effect, his book itself is similarly therapeutic — a celebration of the wild and beautiful, of possibilities for restoration, of nature struggling against bad human judgment and maybe, just maybe, winning.