Meredith Taylor was growing weary of forcing mice to smoke. The biologist’s pulmonary research was important—it would eventually help lead to the surgeon general issuing health warnings on cigarette packs—but she felt the experimentation on little rodents was messing with her karma. Like her subjects, she was feeling caged in, working long days in the Boston laboratory. So, one day she left, to embark on a solo jaunt along the Pacific Crest Trail. She never looked back.
Taylor is the authentic “Wild” woman. She hiked the PCT in the mid-1970s, 40 years before Cheryl Strayed (as played by Reese Witherspoon) strapped on a pack. From the trail, Taylor wrote a grant to study bighorn sheep settling in Dubois, Wyoming, where she’s lived ever since. She and her husband Tory lead natural history wildlife watch trips into Yellowstone. They have a handful of wild horses and hunt elk for winter’s meat.
A big personality wrapped in a tiny, mirthful package, Taylor recently helped lead a group of Earthjustice supporters on a wildlife tour in Yellowstone. I had a chance to chat with Taylor at the B Bar Ranch with Montana’s snow-peaked Gallatin Range as our backdrop. We talked about her experience seeing wolves return to Yellowstone, her most memorable encounters with predators and the wisdom she’s gained from a life spent studying the natural world.
Maggie Caldwell: What was it like seeing wolves restored to Yellowstone in ‘95?
Meredith Taylor: It was very exciting. That they could bring the wolves in daylight without being shot, and all these welcoming people were there – all these school kids from Gardiner, Montana – and everybody’s cheering them on. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. When we heard them howl, I said, “Oh my god, they’re home.”
MC: What’s been your best wolf encounter?
MT: One of my best experiences was when we were outfitting in the park, and I took a really good group up the Snake, a beautiful river, the one that flows out of Yellowstone into Jackson. We were having dinner and there’s this beautiful big meadow that the horses were on. All of a sudden, I heard this howl. I go trucking up the hillside and look out, and there were six wolves, right on the other side of the horses. I said, “Oh my god!” (laughs)
MC: And they weren’t paying any mind to the horses?
MT: Oh no, they wouldn’t. And we didn’t either. Because of who we are, we’re not afraid of wolves or paranoid. There’s no reason to be; they’re very elusive. The only reason Tory was a little worried out there was because we hobble a few of the horses so they’re restrained. So they’d look like they’re lame, and then when an animal looks like its lame, the wolves will think, “I want to eat you.”
MT: These pups came over, half-grown, six months old. The alpha pair was standing—the male was across the creek, the female was over with the pups—and you could see the male glaring at these pups, and the female telling them to stick around and don’t get in trouble with those nasty humans over there.
One of the pups couldn’t stand it—he was the Dennis the Menace—he just started trotting over to the horses. And Tory goes out there from the camp and yells, “Shoo! Shoo! Get out of here” (laughs). So the wolf pup just put his tail between his legs and ran straight back to mom. Then the male, who was glaring at the pup, said, “I told you so. Stay away from those nasty humans because you’ll really just get in trouble with them.”
MC: So much personality
MT: Oh, big time.
MC: What drew you to wolves?
MT: Well, my interest all along has been ecosystem balance, to have all the pieces restored. All animals and plants have their role. I saw that early on in studying wolves and it’s pretty obvious that evolution has happened for a reason, and the things that are still here are here for a purpose. And the places that are still preserved that way like Yellowstone are very special in the world.
MC: Why are people paranoid about wolves?
MT: I don’t have any idea. It’s just colloquial, prehistoric ignorance. I don’t mean to criticize, but honestly, it is. These people are terrified of wolves and they shouldn’t be. And even if they don’t have their livestock killed, they still don’t like them.
So what’s the point? So that’s why we have Tim [Preso, an Earthjustice attorney in the Northern Rockies office]. Tim’s our hero. He is fierce. He’s very assertive. He seems like such a nice, quiet, amiable guy, but you don’t want to be in court on the other side of him. Tim, and Doug Honnold before him (a former Earthjustice attorney), took on the hard cases that nobody else would. So that’s why it’s a no-brainer for me to be an ally with your folks.
About this series
2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the reintroduction of gray wolves to the northern Rockies, and since that time wolves have been under nearly constant threat of losing their protections. The Weekly Howl provides insights and education about the gray wolf and updates on the status of its protections while celebrating the iconic species as a vital part of a functioning, healthy ecosystem. Posts will appear every Wednesday starting June 17 and running through the summer.
Don’t miss last week’s post: “A Literal Lone Wolf: The Journey of OR-7.”