Running With the Wolves
By Julia Barrero
B.A. Candidate in History, 2014
Read about our summer research projects on the OutWest student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.
Maybe it was fate, or just serendipitous, or maybe I was subconsciously searching for it after spending weeks researching wolves this summer. However it happened, I recently stumbled across a song on YouTube: “Running With the Wolves” by Cloud Cult, which is precisely what I feel like I’ve been doing for the last ten weeks of this summer. Back in June, when I settled on studying Idaho’s wolf management policy as part of my independent research project for the Bill Lane Center, I also entered myself into a several month-long marathon; racing to absorb anything and everything about a subject about which I knew absolutely nothing.
Why? Well, first off, I got this research gig as a bonus when I was offered the amazing opportunity to be a TA for the BLC’s Sophomore College Seminar on natural resource issues in the American West. This September, along with twelve rising sophomores, and five other faculty members, we’ll be studying fire policy, the health of fisheries, and land use, with southern Idaho as our backdrop. It’s an opportunity I am so grateful and excited to have, especially after having participated in the BLC’s last Sophomore College Seminar last summer, but as a student.
For my summer research, I could have chosen anything, as long as it had to do with Idaho and natural resources. I spent four months of winter and spring quarters poring over articles, talking to friends and family, even brainstorming in the middle of class sometimes; considering the countless topics I could pursue. Stressful? Yes. Unnecessary? Perhaps. But if you knew me, you’d probably understand.
When people began asking me what my plans were for the summer, they looked at me with puzzled faces when I mentioned my research. “Wait, you mean wolves, like the animal, wolves?” Yep, you’ve got it; those guys from the fairy tales, the furrier versions of man’s best friend. It may have surprised some people, but to me it made perfect sense to settle on such a dynamic subject to research. Wolves aren’t just a resource; they’re an animal with the capability to evoke strong emotional responses from people. To some, they symbolize fear, to others, freedom. They howl, they run through Idaho’s woods, and they’re the center of a decades-long controversy after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced to Idaho in 1995. Before then, the west was effectively free of wolves after an era of federal predator control policy put bounties on wolves and other unfriendly species to ranchers looking to settle the frontier. Wolves are cultural, they’re political, and so I was curious to know what was driving their management in Idaho. Was science driving policy, or was it something else?
So I set to work. As an aspiring writer and lover of magazine journalism, I decided my research would take the form of an article that I hope to publish at the end of the summer. I called and emailed countless contacts in Idaho and people with an expertise on wolf reintroduction to the Northern Rockies, and asked to interview anyone willing to speak with me. I got to talk to some incredibly motivated and interesting people who know a lot about Idaho and who know a lot about wolves—two things about which I didn’t have a clue ten weeks ago. I tried to listen well, ask thoughtful questions, dig under the surface, and with my experts’ help, find out the interesting and important story behind wolf management in Idaho. The story’s in the editing stages right now, so I don’t want to give away the ending, but hopefully look for it in a few weeks and, God willing, it’ll be on some web page for a news organization, with my name in the byline.
But if it’s not, that’s also something with which I’ve had to come to terms this summer. The outcome of my research notwithstanding, this has still been one of the most valuable learning experiences I’ve had in my undergraduate career. It forced me to rely on myself completely, and trust that I could produce something worthwhile and deserving of the amazing opportunity I have been granted this summer. Ultimately, though, the process, not the product, is what I have found to be so worthwhile these last few months (but don’t think that means I won’t stop at nothing to get my story published somehow). None of this could have been possible without the Bill Lane Center and all of the people in Idaho who gave up their time to speak with me and help me understand such a complex issue, and to them I extend my sincere thanks and unending gratitude.
Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns »