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WA: Range rider works to build understanding in Washington wolf country

ELI FRANCOVICH The Spokesman-Review

DANVILLE, Wash. — One night in late September 2018, Daniel Curry, a man who has devoted much of his 37 years to protecting wolves, and Jake Nelson, a rancher who’d shot one of the polarizing canines in self defense a month earlier, sat by a campfire in the heart of the Colville National Forest and got blazingly drunk.

Around midnight, as rounds of ponderosa pine burst into flames and Curry, Nelson and two others passed the bottle beneath a nearly full moon, someone pulled out a drum. The beat started manic and crescendoed with the quartet howling at the sky, hoping to hear wolves in the hills above.

The wolves stayed silent, but the entire tableau spoke volumes.

Since 2008, as wolves have filtered back into Washington, tensions have grown between those who want Canis lupus and those who don’t.

Each summer as cows head onto public land, mainly in northeast Washington, wolves kill some of them. Ranchers cry out, saying their livelihood and culture is under attack. In response, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife kills wolves.

Environmentalists and wolf lovers protest and file lawsuits, noting that cows are a nonnative species and ranchers are grazing their cattle on public land for a nominal fee. Activists and ranchers have been threatened. This summer a series of statewide wolf meetings were canceled due to threats of violence.

Wolves incite passions usually reserved for war and infidelity — passions that highlight the political and social divide in the West’s second-most populous state.

“All the people who don’t want wolves have them in their backyard affecting their culture,” Curry said. “All the people who want wolves don’t have wolves.”

In 2012, Curry stepped into the middle of this drama hoping, as he said, to force a glitch in the system. To show ranchers and environmentalists that cows and wolves can coexist.

He’s spent the past eight years engaged in an age-old human endeavor: trying to keep livestock out of the mouths of wolves. He’s had some success, as evidenced by the strange midnight scene.

But it has taken a toll. At 37, he’s single (“I can’t really find a girlfriend when I’m out in the woods”) and perpetually wavering between broke and almost broke. His idealism and obsession have driven him from jobs. He knows wolves, cattle and humans can live together peaceably. He believes it with a sizzling passion that sends him into the woods for weeks at a time. But, in his view, human greed, incompetence and laziness endanger the entire effort.

Adding to that pressure is Curry’s belief that the wolf wars are simply a symptom of a bigger problem: the political and cultural divide in Washington. Striking a balance in wolf land would go a long way toward kneading the “dough of society” back together.

“This place has the chance to work out,” he said. “It could be a good example. Or it could all fall apart.”

Wolves, a natural history

Wolves are social creatures with complex and tight group bonds. They mostly hunt in packs, although they will hunt as individuals when needed.

They can jog 6 mph for hours or sprint, on relatively level and clear ground, more than 35 mph. They can jump 16 feet horizontally. Their bite strength is about 400 pounds per square inch, compared to an average human bite of around 150 psi. Thick winter coats allow them to withstand temperatures as cold as minus-40 degrees.

Wolves are native to Europe, Asia and North America and once were the most widely distributed land mammal on Earth. They can be prolific travelers. They’re relatively monogamous, nurse their young and live, on average, less than eight years in the wild.

Modern dogs are ancient descendants of wolves. Some scientists believe the canines domesticated themselves as friendlier wolves ingratiated themselves with early humans, eventually leading to a new species.

They’re opportunistic feeders, meaning they’ll attack the weakest and easiest prey available.

“Wolves very rarely attacked people, but a single wolf could ruin a shepherd’s livelihood if he developed a taste for cattle, sheep, or goats,” writes Nate Blakeslee in “American Wolf.” “For centuries, wolves dominated rural conversation as the weather does today, a legacy reflected in the dozens of wolf metaphors that still color languages around the world, in most cases long after any living memory of seeing a wolf on the landscape remains.”

Despite (or perhaps because of) the long human-wolf history, scientists are still learning much about the canines, particularly when it comes to pack dynamics and the animals’ impact on ecosystems. That relative dearth of knowledge is due, in part, to the fact that wolves were nearly extinguished by concentrated human hunting, starting first in the Middle Ages in Europe and Asia and more recently in the Americas.

The few pockets of wolves that survived lived in wild and inaccessible places far from humans.

But like many wild animals in the United States, that’s no longer the case. Over the past 40 years wolves have returned to much of their historic range, finding a land full of humans and livestock.

Nowhere is that more evident than in Washington state.

A boy alone

Born on the edge of California’s Tehachapi Desert, Daniel Curry was exposed to wild animals at a young age. His mother, Laura Curry, remembers finding rattlesnakes in their yard. But the most dangerous and unpredictable creature in Curry’s early life didn’t have fangs — it was his father.

“My dad was just a raging alcoholic,” Curry said. “He couldn’t just have a beer and relax a little. He would beat my mom. And, like, bad. I remember a few times when she came out covered in blood.”

(Laura Curry said her ex-husband did hit her and once gave her a bloody nose. She only remembers him drawing blood once. He never hit the boys, she said.)

Curry was 7 when his mother left his father, who died in 2010, and took Curry and his brother to Snoqualmie, Washington. They were poor. Pancakes, sans butter or syrup, were a typical dinner during those years. To this day Curry avoids them, after all, “a guy can only have so many pancakes in his life.”

Curry’s mom worked hard to support her two boys. His brother, who is 9 years older than him, was often gone at school and with friends. Curry was frequently alone with the family dog, Honey. They commiserated and played together.

“That bond became such a gift,” he said.

That individual connection developed into a deeper empathy and concern for the natural world. His mother, an animal lover herself, encouraged Daniel’s love. When he learned about the daily destruction of the Amazon rainforest, he sobbed. The fact that humans “were destroying species before we even knew what they were” was too much.

He decided at the age of 5 — under the mistaken assumption that he had just become a man and needed a job — that he would dedicate his life to bridging the gap between animals and humans.

At the age of 20 he got a job at Wolf Haven International, an 82-acre fenced refuge near Tenino, Washington. There he fed wolves, administered medicine to them, splinted their broken bones, put dying animals out of their misery and generally immersed himself in all things wolf.

“I wouldn’t be anything without animals in my life,” he said. “I would not want to exist if there were no animals on this planet. I’d sign out today, man. In some ways they’ve basically given me everything.”

Wolves in Washington

Wolves once roamed throughout most of Washington and were, like grizzlies, lynx and caribou, central figures in native culture, art and lore. The Quileute tribe in Western Washington believe their people were born when a wandering spirit changed a wolf to a human, a fact that was dramatized and used as a plot device in the “Twilight” book series.

White people apparently felt no such connection.

Settlers, like their ancestors, killed wolves to protect livestock. By the 1930s wolves were eradicated from the state, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Infrequent sightings (and killings) continued, however, as the long-legged animals traveled from nearby populations in Canada. In 1951 a wolf was trapped in Ferry County. Loggers killed the struggling animal with an ax and the skull was sent to the Smithsonian to verify that it was a wolf. It was, making it the first wolf killed in the state since 1924, according to a Spokesman-Review article from that time.

The first widespread and sustained reappearance of wolves in Washington wasn’t until 2008, when they filtered back into the state from Idaho and Canada following reintroduction in Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere.

In July 2008, a canine was hit and killed by a car near Tum Tum, northwest of Spokane. Tests revealed that it was a wolf. That was the first physical proof wolves had returned.

At the same time, the Northern Rockies wolf population, of which Eastern Washington’s wolves are a part, was delisted as a federal endangered species, allowing states to manage — that is, track, move and kill — the predators.

‘The dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth’

On a clear and warm August day, Curry meticulously examined his favorite horse, Griph. He brushed the animal’s mottled white coat for 20 minutes, checked his unshod hooves for rocks, burrs or potentially painful impediments, and walked the Arabian quarter horse to the nearby North Fork of Lone Ranch Creek where he let him drink. All the while he talked gently to the animal.

The entire process took at least 30 minutes, a tender ritual for an animal Curry calls the “most intelligent” and says has the “most sensitive spirit” of any he’s ever been around.

The $300 he paid for Griph 10 years ago was “the best money” he’s ever spent.

Together, Curry and his horse spend their days riding through the Colville National Forest. Much of the 1.1 million acre forest is rugged, mountainous country, thick with trees from decades of fire suppression and logging. Curry and Griph navigate this landscape trying to stay between cattle and wolves.

“He is my brother in a mission of coexistence,” Curry wrote on his website. “He is my best friend.”

This is not how most ranchers in northeast Washington speak about animals, nor is it traditionally how modern Americans view the natural world.

Instead, horses are machines, albeit finicky and occasionally unpredictable ones, and animals are props to be managed in our ongoing human drama. This does not mean ranchers and others don’t care for and, in many cases, love their animals. But at the core of that relationship is the belief that these creatures are on the earth for our use. It’s a view embedded in the very DNA of our culture, with roots snaking back to one of Western civilization’s earliest texts: the Bible.

“The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea,” Genesis 9:2 states.

That attitude is changing. In 2019, a broad study of Americans’ views toward wildlife documented a continued shift from a “traditionalist” view of wildlife, to a “mutualist” view. Traditionalists think of wildlife as resources to be used by humans, while mutualists believe animals have their own intrinsic value, separate from human utility.

“It’s a changing world,” the study’s lead investigator, Michael Manfredo, told the Missoulian. “We’ve gone from a world where we perceived wildlife as something we had control over and should use the way we wish, to a world where we regard animals as human-like, with a certain amount of rights like humans have.”

According to the study, which was conducted by Colorado State University, “higher income, urbanization and education at the state level were associated with a higher prevalence of mutualism orientations among state residents.” In Washington, 38% of respondents were mutualists and 28% were traditionalists. Those differences aligned roughly with urban and rural areas.

This difference is at the core of all wildlife tensions in Washington.

As Western Washington grows, economically and numerically, much of Eastern Washington feels left behind. While WDFW has staff and offices throughout the state, major decisions are made in Olympia — the heart of liberal Washington — where wolves are a beloved but distant animal.

This divide was exemplified earlier this year, when Gov. Jay Inslee asked the state to kill fewer wolves, a move that bolstered his standing among his liberal, urban base and reinforced rural residents’ belief that urban Washington doesn’t care for them or their lifestyle.

“There is such a systemic, cultural problem in this agency,” said Joel Kretz, a rancher and state representative, in a July interview. “I don’t know what you do. It’s so unresponsive to the rural public.”

Curry intuited this disconnect. And he believed he could help undo it.

While he’s an unapologetic animal lover, he also lives and works with and around predators. His love for animals is no Disney-fied fantasy.

“If I went outside and there was a wolf chewing on Griph, I would shoot that wolf,” he said. “I wouldn’t even think twice. I’d go grab my rifle and I’d go out there and shoot it, but with the caveat of I’ve done everything prior to that to prevent that meeting from ever happening.”

‘There’s the meow meow’

The two cougars crouched beneath a barn, the oppressive smallness of the space palatable even in the low-quality video. Curry inched toward them, the light from his headlamp illuminating the cats’ impassive gazes.

“There’s the meow meow,” he said in a recording of the 2017 encounter. “Holy balls, we’re close together, aren’t we?”

Curry is tall and muscled from outdoor work. It’s hard to imagine him squeezed into a tight crawl space. But there he was, 5 feet from the two big felines. He addressed them calmly.

“You’re beautiful cats. I appreciate you guys,” he says in the video, which has 40 views. “That’s why I’m under this barn, risking my life to get you out.”

After working at Wolf Haven for a decade, Curry upended his life and moved east, hoping to help animals and humans live together.

As wolves filtered back into Washington, they started attacking cattle. In northeast Washington, where the majority of the wolves are, ranching is not a big industry and never has been, always playing second fiddle to mining and logging. But it’s enmeshed with the culture and has vocal and effective support in the state legislature.

Ferry County is one of Washington’s poorest, with a per capita income of just over $20,000 as of 2017. For those who do ranch, it’s a way to make good money, with Eastern Washington beef commanding high prices in Asian markets. It’s also a point of inter-generational pride.

But the type of ranching in the area — public land grazing — makes cows particularly susceptible to wolf attacks. Most ranchers release their cattle onto grazing allotments on the Colville National Forest in the spring and round them up in the fall. In the ensuing months ranchers have infrequent contact with their cattle. Many methods of keeping wolves from cows — pastures, dogs, lights — don’t work well.

Living in Western Washington, Curry knew nothing of this. Instead he read, with horror and fury, accounts of state wildlife managers killing wolves in response to wolves killing cattle. Those ranchers, he thought, shouldn’t even have their cattle on public land. Wolves had a right to be there. Cows did not.

In 2012, when WDFW killed the Wedge Pack, Curry had enough.

“I’m not really saving any wolves,” he said of his decision to move. “I’m not really helping build that bridge that I always felt like I was. I put my finger in the middle of all the wolf packs. And I’m like, ‘I’m going there.’ ”

“There” turned out to be Colville.

Curry packed his few belongings, loaded his animals — Griph, three dogs, three cats, a bird and five reptiles, including a red-tailed boa — and drove east. He rented a house north of Colville sight unseen, intent on starting a business specializing in nonlethal predator-human interaction. He named his business Guarding the Respective Interests of Predators and Humans, a clunky name with a meaningful acronym, GRIPH, and started showing up at wolf meetings, advertising his services to anyone who’d listen.

It was not easy. Within a year of moving he realized he’d accidentally rented a home owned by members of the Arc, a Christian Identity church in Stevens County known for a violent and racist ideology. He rented another house, only to have the owner sell it months into his lease. He spent a winter living in his horse trailer on public land until he found a new home north of Colville.

In addition to housing woes, his mantra of coexistence was being met with skepticism and outright hostility. At a state wolf meeting held in Colville in 2013 he addressed a crowd of more than 300 and told them: “I don’t want my horses to be eaten by wolves. I’m working on deterrents … We have to figure out how to coexist.”

The crowd groaned and booed, according to an newspaper story from the meeting. After Curry stopped talking one man said, “After hearing you talk, boy, I think you need to grow your hair out and change your clothes. You seem more like a hippie to me,” Curry recalls.

Despite that, Curry did make some inroads. At that same meeting, he said, a ranching family thanked him for sharing.

Still, he walked to his truck with his hand on his knife.

In 2013, Curry got a contract with WDFW as a range rider. He spent the spring, summer and fall patrolling and trying to figure out where the cattle were grazing and how to keep the wolves from them.

He’d also respond to other complaints, such as the cougars. Slowly, his fearlessness and work ethic ingratiated him with some of the most skeptical ranchers.

The 2017 cougar encounter was a public relations coup, a story that is still brought up. Now some in the Colville area reach for a phone to call Curry when they have a predator problem, instead of reaching for a gun. Kretz, the state representative, respects Curry despite the fact that he “likes wolves.”

“I do believe if you teach by example that’s the best way to be the leader on a subject,” Curry said. “I moved up here, and I started raising sheep. So when I lose sheep I’d be like, ‘Ah, that’s what it’s like.’”

21st-century cowpokes

It’s nearly 10 p.m. and dark when Curry starts work one night in late October 2018. As he saddles his horse the moonlight illuminates a long-abandoned homestead, now surrounded by aged paddocks and cheatgrass. About a hundred years ago the Dulin family lived and ranched here. Now the Grumbachs, one of the area’s largest ranching families, own the 400 acres.

Once ready, Curry rode up the hill, the warm plume of his breath visible in the chilled air as he wove in between nighttime obstacles. With him, he carried a saw to cut trails, a shotgun with nonlethal rounds to scare wolves and a GPS device to track his work and mark where he sees wolf sign.

“You’re trying to create a pattern for the cows and disrupt that pattern for the wolves,” he said.

A wolf was reported in this area three weeks earlier, likely a member of the Togo pack. Curry’s ridden all over the allotment since. He varies when he rides, sometimes heading out late at night and sometimes saddling up in the middle of the day. He looks for wolf sign. He looks for stressed or injured cattle. He gets to know the land and its creatures while making his presence known. Wolves, for the most part, stay as far away from humans as they can. He examined one cow, his headlamp illuminating a raw and bloody nose.

“What happened to your nose, bud?” he said. A stray tree branch, he concludes.

Although the land is owned by the Grumbachs, the cows are owned by Jake Nelson, a 27-year-old rancher who is marrying into the Grumbach clan. Nelson comes from a family of Washington ranchers in Chesaw, Washington, a former gold-rush town west of Republic.

Now he manages and owns some of Doug Grumbach’s cattle. His fiancée, Amanda Grumbach, is a fifth-generation rancher with a doctorate in physical therapy. She works in Republic, the nearest town, though it’s a 45-minute drive from their home. Together, Jake and Amanda are making a go at being 21st-century cowpokes.

“This is what I’ve wanted to do forever,” Nelson said. “I really don’t want to see this place go under. Amanda would be fifth generation.”

During the 2018 grazing season, Nelson estimates he lost three of his cattle to wolves. But that’s only the cattle WDFW would confirm. Nelson believes, and some research indicates, that for every dead bovine there are three more that aren’t found. Plus the added stress of having wolves on the landscape leads to lower birth rates and skinnier animals. With every pound representing roughly $1.50 on the open market, skinny cows mean skinny paychecks.

Before meeting Curry, Nelson held a more traditional view of the wolf: Heck no. Get out. This is my livelihood at risk.

And he’s not afraid to defend his lifestyle and cattle. In August 2018 he found a wolf sniffing around his cattle using GPS collar data provided by the state. He went to scare it away only to see some pups with the adult male wolf. The male growled and started to approach, according to a state news release about the incident. He shot it, breaking the wolf’s leg. About a week later, the state killed the injured wolf.

For Curry, the death of a wolf is a tragedy.

And yet, both Curry and Nelson respect each other and have continued to work together. Curry has shown Nelson that on this landscape range riding is an important tool. And Nelson has embraced nonlethal approaches, for the most part.

“Jake is trying,” Curry said. “I really care about wolves, and I really care about the ranchers.”

Together they’ve been successful, with Nelson only losing one animal ever to wolves under Curry’s watch.

“I would have to say that I think the wolf is a pretty cool animal,” Nelson said. “The wolf isn’t the problem. It’s the management that’s the problem.”

Unfortunately, repeated attacks this year on cattle in neighboring allotments, fueled in part by poor management, have damaged the reputation of range riding, threatening everything Curry has worked toward for the past eight years.

Human presence, early and often

On a Friday in mid-August, the wolf debate ratcheted up in intensity, an impressive feat for an already fraught subject. That’s when the state announced it killed four of the five remaining members of the Old Profanity Territory pack. A judge blocked the killing of the final member of the pack. The agency later announced that they’d miscounted, and the fifth wolf was just traveling through. The OPT pack was gone.

The Center for a Humane Economy, a new animal welfare group based in Washington, D.C., joined with two Seattle residents and a Ferry County resident to file a lawsuit alleging the rancher in question hadn’t used appropriate nonlethal deterrents before the killing, a violation of the state’s wolf policy.

Environmentalists and wolf lovers were enraged. Letters, emails and comments inundated WDFW, the governor and other elected officials.

At the same time, the state had planned to kill members of the Togo wolf pack, neighbors to the Old Profanity wolves, following repeated cattle attacks. The lawsuit delayed the lethal removal of the Togo pack, infuriating ranchers who felt that WDFW was reneging on their word.

The argument revolves, in part, around range riding.

Washington’s lethal removal policy allows killing wolves if they kill or injure livestock three times in a 30-day period or four times in a 10-month period — but only if two nonlethal deterrents have already been deployed.

Nonlethal deterrents include range riders, fladry (colored string or flags) and foxlights (automated lights that flash randomly). In the treed and steep mountains of the Colville National Forest, where cattle roam freely on certain allotments, fladry and foxlights aren’t particularly effective.

When WDFW announced the kill order on the Old Profanity pack, they assured the public that the appropriate nonlethal tools had been used. However, documents obtained during the lawsuit’s discovery process show that there was some question among agency staff about whether range riders were effectively patrolling the area.

In August, a judge announced that the suit would go to trial.

The legal wrangling highlights the fact that range riding is hard to quantify and even harder to manage. Whether the riders’ efforts actually stopped a wolf attack may never be known, and keeping tabs on a rider’s daily activity is difficult. Plus, doing the work effectively requires long unpredictable hours and weeks away from home. Riders make on average $4,000 a month. And to do the job effectively they need a horse, truck and four-wheeler.

Carter Niemeyer has worked with wolves for more than 30 years, first as a government wolf trapper, then as the federal wolf manager in Idaho, and more recently as an advocate and educator. Range riding is effective, in his opinion, but requires a broad skill set. Riders need to know wolf and cow ecology. They need to be able to ride horses, cut trail and live in the wild. They need to be hard workers. Most people can’t or won’t do that, he said. He points to successful range riding efforts in northern Alberta as a model.

“There is an expertise there and most people who engage in range riding are not experts and need to be schooled and trained by those who do it professionally,” he said. “Where it gets off to a bad start is there is a pot of money. … People come running and say, ‘How do I get some of it?’ ”

Jay Shepherd knows the challenges of managing and hiring range riders better than most. A former conflict specialist with WDFW, he helped start the Northeast Washington Wolf-Cattle Collaborative in 2017. Funded in part by Conservation Northwest, NEWCC aims to promote coexistence and help ranchers implement nonlethal deterrents. Shepherd employed about 10 range riders this season, including Curry. At the same time, the state employed about a dozen range riders.

It wasn’t a good year.

The theory behind successful range riding is to establish human presence early and often. Once wolves start to kill and injure livestock, it’s very hard to stop them. This spring, Shepherd sent Curry into an area of the Colville National Forest before cows were turned out.

Curry was thrilled. This was his chance to prove it worked. He believes that, if allowed to stay in one area for an entire grazing season, he can keep wolves from ever killing cattle.

But within a week, wolves had attacked cattle on a nearby allotment and Shepherd was getting pressure from ranchers and politicians to move Curry.

“People were saying, ‘What the hell are you doing? You have your best range rider on an allotment where the cows haven’t been put out,’ ” Shepherd said.

He moved Curry, but the wolf attacks continued. Some ranchers refuse to work with other range riders, only trusting Curry. And Curry also questions the effectiveness of some of his fellow riders.

Like Shepherd, Donny Martorello, the wolf policy lead, acknowledges that range riding is a work in progress and that state range riders need better training. But he believes it’s an important tool in the fight for coexistence.

“The tool is being refined and honed and evolving,” he said.

So far this year, the state has killed nine wolves and wolves killed or injured 22 cattle.

“Overall, that kind of looked like a range riding failure,” Shepherd said. “We just haven’t had that opportunity to take a breath and do it right. That’s our goal this coming year.”

‘The only recurring dream I’ve ever had’

Curry lives about 40 minutes north of Colville on 63 acres. There is a cave, stream and meadows on his land. The log home was built in stages, starting first in 1970. It’s quiet, with the occasional noise from a passing car muffled by a thick wall of pines, larch and aspens. Curry has seen wolf tracks and, on one occasion, a wolf near his home, in addition to the regular moose, deer, elk and bear sign.

He raises goats and horses. His home is spartan, tidy to the point of emptiness. His three black Dobermans — Rook, Knight and Bishop, collectively known as The Lads — rocket around, careening off anything dumb enough to get in their way.

He bought the house in 2015 after spending nearly seven months living on public land and staying with friends when he could. It was a tough period but helped him cement his reputation as a dedicated range rider.

“I had no home to go back to and sit down and watch a movie and drink a beer,” he said of that time. “So I just plowed my nose into (range riding).”

A friend told him when the house went on the market and Curry contacted Tony Bolles, the owner. It turned out Bolles had financially sponsored a wolf at Wolf Haven during the same time Curry worked there. A bizarre coincidence.

Things only got stranger.

Bolles told Curry he’d bought the house in 1991 from the man who built it in 1970.

A man named William White.

The Whites are infamous in the wolf world. That’s because in December 2008, a FedEx worker found a package oozing blood and headed to Canada. It was a wolf pelt. White’s son had killed the animal and was mailing it to a friend in Alberta. The elder White eventually pleaded guilty to conspiracy to kill an endangered animal for his part in the crime. His son was convicted for the killing.

Curry knew the case. When it happened in 2008, he was apoplectic. He Googled White’s home, found aerial photos and had a vague plan, which he didn’t act upon, to confront him.

Seven years later, he bought the home he’d once surveilled. The whole thing seemed impossible.

And then William White called. He wanted to see the place he’d built 40-odd years ago. Curry, a bit stunned, agreed and soon found himself sitting across from William White.

“It was weird because you’re like some wolf-poaching piece of crap and I’m some wolf-loving piece of crap in your mind and we’re sitting here,” he said of that meeting. “It was a really interesting scenario, because if you take all that crap away, I liked the guy a lot.”

Wolves aren’t in danger of going extinct in Washington.

Despite yearly losses to poachers, the state and cars, the population has grown an average of 28% per year. Nor are wolves single-handedly destroying ranching or endangering humans. Washington’s ranching industry was small, far from slaughterhouses and struggling to compete with larger operations long before wolves arrived.

But tolerance for wolves is, in Curry’s view, on the ropes. The rhetoric is increasingly violent. Every time a wolf kills a cow or the state kills a wolf, the divide widens, and meetings like the one between Curry and White become less likely.

That leaves Curry wondering if the sacrifices he’s made — the broken bones, sleepless nights and eviscerated bank accounts — are worth it.

“I’ve never been this close to quitting,” he said.

And yet, there runs a shiver of fate throughout Curry’s life. How else can he explain the coincidence of the home? Or the feeling he gets — a bone-deep familiarity and calmness — when he hears a wolf howl?

He can’t. But he does remember a recurring dream he started having when he was 4, the year before he dedicated his life to the animal world.

“I was sitting across the street from this campfire with this girl. We were sitting there talking when a wolf came up and attacked me and pulled me away,” he said. “That was the only recurring dream I’ve ever had in my life.”