By Ian McAllister. Greystone Books, 192 pp, $45, hardcover
The 100 or so breathtaking large-scale photographs in Ian McAllister's The Last Wild Wolves: Ghosts of the Great Bear Rainforest are the closest many of us will ever get to the coastal grey wolves of central B.C. That's still pretty darn close–close enough to look into their eyes and see the alert, inquisitive, untamed spirit of this unusual animal, which McAllister defines as the apex predator of its habitat.
Ernest, doing what Ernest does best—staring intently. Image (c) Ian McAllister.
Opportunistic ravens stay close by as the Fish Trap Pack goes about an evening of fishing that can land more than two hundred salmon in a single session. Image (c) Ian McAllister.
That habitat, the Great Bear Rainforest and the network of islands off the north-central coast, is under siege from logging companies, and even where small stands of pristine old-growth are left, logging roads and changes to predation cycles and nutrient distribution mean that these last wild wolves may not have that much longer to last.
The wolves, which McAllister has been studying at extremely close range for 17 years, are as unique as their landscape, genetically distinct from all other packs on the planet. Among the research-driven facts we learn, it turns out that according to isotope testing, up to three-quarters of the wolves' diet is marine-based, which raises the question of just how terrestrial these alleged deer hunters really are.
Four Surf Pack adults move back upriver after having accepted the author in their valley. Image (c) Ian McAllister.
This random howl did not elicit even a raised eyebrow from the rest of the pack. To the author, however, a wolf's howl is a sound to contemplate and cherish. Image (c) Ian McAllister.
McAllister's deep love for the animals is palpable, and throughout the well-written account, we come to know and care for Ernest, Three Legs, and the other members of the packs he studies. He argues that wolves have much to teach us about larger questions of ecology, perseverance, and self-sacrifice. He involves the First Nations in his field work, and from them learns that according to Heiltsuk belief, wolves only choose to reveal themselves when they have a message to impart.
That message seems to be a simple one: back off; stop screwing up Mother Nature; don't hunt us and we won't hunt you. But with offshore oil-and-gas exploration the next resource mania on the horizon, it's unlikely that timber-hungry, trophy-hunting, progress-mad British Columbia will heed these magnificent, complex creatures any time soon.
Thanks to Ian McAllister's exhaustive, from-the-ground observation, we can't say we didn't know what we're throwing away.
The interface between rain forest and ocean provides habitat for many species of wolf prey. Image (c) Ian McAllister.
Opportunistic ravens stay close by as the Fish Trap Pack goes about an evening of fishing that can land more than two hundred salmon in a single season. Image (c) Ian McAllister.
Ernest pays full attention in his role as the gatekeeper of the Fish Trap Pack. Image (c) Ian McAllister.
The Fish Trap Pack takes over the intertidal zone shortly after moving to their new rendezvous site from their higher-elevation birth-den location. Image (c) Ian McAllister.