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WY: Filmmaker explores wolves’ true nature

By Kelsey Dayton

Julia Huffman’s interest in wolves goes back to when she 10 years old and reading National Geographic books and articles in her childhood home in West Virginia, her dog Bozo at her feet. She learned how Bozo, and all dogs, shared DNA with wolves.

“If it wasn’t for wolves we wouldn’t have the dog,” she said. “I like to say the wolf was in the living room before I could walk.”

When years later Huffman, a filmmaker, learned lawmakers had decided wolves in Minnesota no longer warranted endangered species protection, she was surprised. When she discovered that hunters would be able to kill wolves for sport, she was shocked.

Huffman traveled to Minnesota’s wolf country to better understand the divisive views surrounding wolf management. Her film “Medicine of the Wolf” centers on National Geographic photographer Jim Brandenburg, who has spent 45 years studying and photographing the wolves in the area and helps Huffman and viewers better understand what Huffman calls “the most unjustly maligned animal on the planet.”

“Medicine of the Wolf” will be screened at 7 p.m. Friday at the Center for the Arts. Tickets cost $12.

Huffman wanted to convey a story in “Medicine of the Wolf,” that showed the true nature of wolves as well as the role of humans in the animal’s survival and how and why historically people have had unwarranted fears about it.

While the film is set in Minnesota, Jackson viewers will see issues and politics surrounding wolves in the Midwest mirror those in the Yellowstone region, said Roger Hayden, executive director of Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, the organization that brought the film to Jackson.

“The politics between the upper Midwest and here are really similar,” Hayden said.

The film delves into pack dynamics and myths people believe about wolves. Hayden hopes people leave the film with a greater understanding of them, their importance in an ecosystem and the real results different management strategies yield.

“I think it’s just an informative and important film for us in this area,” he said.

Wolf issues in the Yellowstone region parallel challenges in the Great Lakes, Huffman said. The stakeholders are similar: ranchers, hunters, environmentalists and wildlife watchers.

“It’s the same story,” she said. “You hear the same types of arguments.”

Both sides are passionate. On one side are people who love and admire the animal, who believe it’s an important part of the ecosystem and deserves protection. On the other side are people who feel just as passionately that the animals are a menace to livestock and even people and should be hunted.

“The wolf brings out in us something deep in our own selves,” Huffman said. “In essence the wolf is like a mirror for us to take a look at ourselves. The wolf has become a scapegoat. We take all these human qualities and project them onto the wolf.”

The film includes the voices and opinions of wolf advocates, elected officials, ranchers and members of the Ojibwe tribe.

When talking about wolf management, science and ethics need to both have a role.

“We have to demand that our politicians use science-based evidence to make decisions about these iconic species, and not make the wolf issue or any other endangered species about politics or greed,” Huffman said.

The film has changed people’s minds about wolves. She has had ranchers and hunters approach her saying their perspective shifted after seeing “Medicine of the Wolf.” She think that’s because the story uses science but also is true and authentic.

“My intention is for people to have an experience when watching the film,” Huffman said.