Last week, I got a note from Sisters Middle School Teacher Susie Werts inviting me to a presentation by two biologists, one of whom worked in Yellowstone during the reintroduction of the wolves.

Well, of course I went, and I’m glad I did. The biologists did a wonderful job of presenting what’s going on with wolves and the public since the Yellowstone reintroduction, focusing on herbivore overgrazing, balance-of-nature and habitat considerations, and citing the impact of the wolves of Isle Royal as an example.

They also presented a clear picture of how wolves have wandered through the Northwest, discussing the famous — or infamous, depending on your point of view — Wolf OR-7.

Again and again student hands shot up for questions, and after each answer everyone began to see the scope of ecological events that took place for the good of the land and all the species that lived in it with wolves back in the Yellowstone ecosystem again.

Susie told me, “We studied the wolf in context of different habitats (arctic, temperate forest) and expanded our study to literature (“Julie of the Wolves”), art, science, and music (our choir teacher weaved in a song about wolves). We also approached this particular study with a balanced lens – discussing different perspectives on wolves (ranchers, hunters, and scientists) – but all the while keeping in mind the ecological story – that the wolf is a keystone species, an apex predator, and is critical in preserving nature’s balance.”

One of her students, Josiah, wrote, “I was really surprised to learn that wolves do not howl at the moon, but are more active when there is a full moon. Coming from Idaho, I felt sympathetic about the wolves killing their livestock, but I did not know that the reintroduction of wolves was that important to Yellowstone Park. Compromise has been key in supporting both sides.”

Another student, Hunter, had this to say: “Without wolves, coyotes overpopulate and that means that the elk overpopulate because coyotes are not predators of the elk. Aspen/willow trees become overgrazed and then beavers have no materials to build their dams, and then dragonflies don’t have puddles to lay their eggs. Wolves primarily hunt the elk, but only eat 20 pounds of meat at a feeding. There are a lot of animals that benefit from a wolf kill and who scavenge on the leftovers — magpies, grizzly bears, wolverines, ravens, etc. Without wolves as apex predators, coyotes overpopulate and over-hunt ground squirrels, pronghorn babies, and other small animals — which impact other animals — like birds of prey and badgers. I wonder what would be the chain reaction when you take out a lower -level species — who misses out on meal?”

Susie noted, “Whether we are studying monarch butterflies, octopuses, sharks, whales, owls, bees or bats, I am always amazed by the depth of inquiry and understanding that my students display when we dig deeply into a topic.

“Kids are such thoughtful caretakers of our natural world and have such a gifted ability of connecting and understanding the importance of all species (biodiversity) regardless of its role in its environment.”

I agree. In all the years I have been dealing with nature and kids I’m always so pleased when the Big Picture comes into focus in a child’s mind and he or she says, “Hey Mr. Anderson (circa 1965) or Jim (circa 2019), how about this?”