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Resident wolf guru shares experience at IWC

Chad Richardson is pictured with one of the wolves at the International Wolf Center. Photo by Rob Schultz of the International Wolf Center1 / 3
Photo by Chad Richardson2 / 3
Photo by Chad Richardson3 / 3

There is much about the wolf that still remains unknown, but research continues to discover more every year.

For one local resident and former Hastings Star Gazette editor, wolves have become the focus of his work day. Not necessarily in a research capacity, but Chad Richardson has worked at the International Wolf Center for about a year.

The International Wolf Center advances the survival of wolf populations through educating others about wolves, their relationship to wildlands and the human role in their future. With an understanding that wolves can be a controversial topic with a hairy past, the IWC aim is to educate the world about wolves.

"Our philosophy, our mission is that we want to teach people about wolves and let them make up their own minds from there," Richardson said.

Much of the educational material from the IWC can be found on its website, in the quarterly magazine, through classroom visits and more.

In addition to his day-to-day duties as communications director, Richardson has had the opportunity to set up his work station in front of the viewing window of the resident wolves at the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minn.

"I go in early in the morning ... and the wolves are running around and going crazy chasing each other; they're really active in the mornings and I can see that," Richardson said.

The center opens up a little later in the morning and by that time, the wolves lay there sleeping. He has heard visitors say "Oh, they aren't doing anything." Little do the visitors know, the wolves were just tuckered out.

Wolves are typically part of a wolf pack, or a cohesive unit of wolves that live, feed and travel together. The wolves in Ely are no exception. Each wolf pack has a designated leader and a clear order of leadership. Richardson said it is an interesting time in Ely because that social dynamic is being tested.

"Our leader right now is 9 years old and a couple younger wolves are challenging him for his leadership role so it's pretty contentious up in Ely at the moment," he said.

Richardson said it has been interesting to see the younger wolves test the leader and the center will have to eventually decide whether or not to retire the leader to an area with a slower pace and other select wolves. At that time, a new leader would rise to the occasion.

In addition to the wolves at the center in Ely, Richardson had the opportunity to observe wolves in the wild in Yellowstone National Park. The landscape has a lot of open spaces which makes it easier to spot wolves in the wild.

Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot of activity once they spotted the wolves. Richardson said they were not moving around too much or sleeping. However, it was an educational experience for the IWC leadership team and himself to learn more about what's happening in Yellowstone.

One of the most interesting things Richardson has learned is the potential wolf extinction on Isle Royale in Michigan. The island, which is part of the National Park System, has seen the wolf population dwindle to just two wolves. At the same time, the island's moose population has increased to 1,600 creating a concern for the island's vegetation.

In the past, wolves used to cross over from the mainland to the island on ice bridges. Richardson said that in recent years, wolves have been unable to go back and forth to the island as freely as they used to so scientists believe the best remedy would be to reintroduce wolves to the island. The National Park Service is now in the middle of considering a proposal that would release 20 to 30 wild wolves on the island. The IWC continues to follow the situation on Isle Royale, but they do not take a stance or position on the issue.

"We just aim to educate the world about wolves," Richardson said.

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

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