Book Review

Wolves In The Land of Salmon

by David Moskowitz


Timber Press

336 pp with maps, photos & illustrations



Outstanding book! It answered nearly all the questions I had about the current status of wolves in the Pacific Northwest, and, as the title suggests, discussed their little understood relationship to salmon.


When I first looked at the table of contents I noticed that the last chapter focused on the Olympic Peninsula where I live. I was tempted to “cut to the chase” and just read it. I resisted, and I am glad I did. By the time I got to it, I had a clear understanding of wolves, their natural history, behaviors, and complex relationship to other animals as well as us humans. And, I enjoyed nearly every story, photo, map and illustration on the way.


By the end of the book, the “voice” of the author had become quite familiar, almost like I knew him. I was ready for a guided “walk-about” up the Dosewallips Valley here where I live, to sense it through Moskowitz’s highly trained eyes and ears as well as his inquisitive mind. Most of all, I imagined a long evening of stories around the campfire, because, as the book reveals, he is quite skilled at using the story-telling arts to communicate ideas.


I came to understand that the last officially documented wolves in Washington State lived west of me here on the Peninsula, killed by hunters in 1920 (though as Moskowitz states, reliable sightings were recorded in the 30‘s and 40‘s). And, he made it clear that, due to geography and human created land use patterns, this area would likely be the last place in the State where they might return.


Wolves in the Land of Salmon gave me insight into some things about the Rocky Brook landscape where I live that had been puzzling me. The floodplain forest is dominated by alders. I often wondered why the cottonwoods are all stately giants, few young trees, and why there were so few willows. I had assumed that the alders reflected a century of relentless logging; alders “healing” lands where the soil has been severely disturbed (its roots support nitrogen fixing bacteria, like peas and beans). Moskowitz’s book helped me see that the local elk herd also plays a role, maybe the defining one. Alders thrive because they are a browse of last resort for elk and deer. The relatively secure elk herd keeps cottonwood, willow and other shrubs pretty much mowed down, little chance of regrowth. He helped me see that in this abundantly green and growing landscape, it was possible for animals to actually suffer from malnutrition, such as appears to be an issue with the Duckabush elk herd in the valley adjacent to me.


What about wolves and salmon? While the focus is on wolves and their primary prey, ungulates (elk, deer, moose, caribou) Moskowitz documents how some populations living near rivers with salmon will feed on them during spawning runs. This did not surprise me, but I appreciated the careful way that the author looked at this question, spending weeks in the field observing and photographing. It is estimated that some wolf populations on Vancouver Island may up to 16% of their annual food needs met by salmon. In addition he suggests another relationship between wolves and salmon beyond feeding. Wolves may play a role in maintaining salmon-healthy riverbank conditions; reducing the heavy grazing by deer and elk in the most intensively used part of the landscape.


In addition, the Olympic Peninsula chapter of the book tells the story of how the absence of wolves is likely linked to the recent decline of Olympic marmot populations. Its worth reading.


Moskowitz brings to the table his skill and training in wildlife tracking. He is patient, and does not jump to conclusions, but rather circles around a problem or question until it is clear how the pieces all fit together. If he does not completely understand something, he admits it. He is logical and credible.


Whether you are for or against wolves, this book should help you see them a little differently. For Moskowitz, wolves are not the missing cog in the perfectly functioning intact ecosystem of the arch-conservationist, nor the blood thirsty livestock killer that others believe. They are survivors, limited by their innate ways of living, yet highly adaptable. I liked the way that he points out that wolves, in behavior and inclination are a lot like us. For much of human history they survived by being pushed back to the fringes. We live during a time when the winds of change are shifting. There is a tolerance in letting them return to some of the fringes. How close is yet to be determined. I appreciated the way that the book explores the creative ways that humans are trying to make this happen; reimbursing livestock owners for losses, radio collars to really understand movements, managing prey species better, changing grazing practices on public lands, and maintaining large contiguous or linked tracts of wild land with minimal public road access.


I especially appreciated Moskowitz’s photography; most photos were linked to the text, helping one visualize the place or point he was making. And the maps always helped me understand where the story was taking me. I got a sense of some places I knew very little about such as the Selkirk Mountains of far northeast Washington and the Clayoquot Sound area on the west side of Vancouver Island.


The book reminded me of two other books people interested in this topic should be aware of. Wildlife of the Pacific Northwest, Tracking and Identifying Mammals, Birds, Reptiles, Amphibians and Invertebrates is also by David Moskowitz. It is another Timber Press publication, well designed, and filled with photos, maps and illustrations to make things clear. Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong looks at wolves in a completely different environmental and cultural context; the open stepps of eastern China (Inner Mongolia). While labeled a novel, it is based on the authors first hand experience there during the 1970‘s and 80‘s.


Wolves in the Land of Salmon is an ongoing story, one I want to stay tuned into. I expect Moskowitz to keep tracking and observing, writing and photographing. I await for the next, updated edition of this book, if anything, to see if wolves are edging closer to the piece of the Pacific Northwest I call home. If I see any, I now know who to call first to confirm.

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