In 1932, Sigurd Olson completed a master’s thesis titled The Life History of the Timber Wolf and the Coyote: A Study in Predatory Animal Control. In the opening paragraphs of the thesis, Olson writes that “practically no scientific research or investigation has been made into the actual status of [predators] in regard to the herbivores upon which they prey and little is known as to the part they play in the general scheme of existence.” Olson goes on to claim that the “public, always gullible, has accepted the most exaggerated reports as to the activities of these animals.”
Olson’s thesis was, in fact, the first scientific study of wolves, and although, as L. David Mech has observed, it “did not lead to any major insight into the life of the wolf, it was a milestone in first treating the wolf as a worthy subject for scientific research.”
Given the significance of Olson’s thesis, and his early recognition that the general populace in America was inclined to accept unfounded reports about the activity of wolves, it is fitting that the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute has been, and continues to be, home to the Timber Wolf Alliance.
The Timber Wolf Alliance traces its origin to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ 1986 wolf recovery plan for the state. Echoing Olson’s observation about popular attitudes toward carnivores, and wolves in particular, this plan acknowledged that wolf recovery efforts would not be successful without increased education about wolves. Consequently, the Wisconsin Wolf Recovery Team formed a subcommittee focused on education, and in March of 1987, this subcommittee, using the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation as a model, conceived the idea of creating an alliance of environmental groups interested in promoting wolf recovery through public education.
Initially, the Timber Wolf Alliance included eleven members, and the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute was selected to serve as secretary for the group. The purpose of the Timber Wolf Alliance, as former Institute director and current TWA Advisory Council member Mark Peterson has explained, was “to increase and improve public awareness and acceptance of wolves and their ecological role in Wisconsin by bringing accurate information about wolves to the public.”
One of the Timber Wolf Alliance’s first initiatives was to create a wolf poster designed to raise funds for the new organization and to raise awareness about the importance of wolf recovery in Wisconsin. The poster featured a painting of three wolves walking on snow next to an open, wooded waterway and an invitation to “Join the Pack.” The bottom portion of the poster listed the first 425 people and organizations who had donated financial support for wolf education programs. Five thousand of these posters were distributed throughout Wisconsin.
The following year, the Timber Wolf Alliance successfully lobbied then-governor Tommy Thompson to declare the third week of October Wolf Awareness Week, a week strategically chosen to precede the gun-hunting season for deer, when wolves were most likely to be killed. To promote and celebrate Wolf Awareness Week, and building on the success of the Join the Pack poster, the Timber Wolf Alliance partnered with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest to produce a Wolf Awareness Week poster that featured a depiction of wolves by artist Al Agnew.
Both Wolf Awareness Week and the celebratory poster garnered immediate interest and support. In 1991, Michigan joined Wisconsin with a similar gubernatorial proclamation and a number of additional sponsors, including the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service, joined the initiative. The Timber Wolf Alliance continues to celebrate Wolf Awareness Week annually and the accompanying posters now include original essays and educational information on their back sides.
Additional activities of the Timber Wolf Alliance include yearly wolf ecology, tracking, and howl survey workshops and trainings; the production of educational materials and curricula; educational visits to classrooms; speakers bureau presentations for interested groups and organizations; consultation on wolf management policies and practices; and hosting of the Great Lakes Wolf Symposium.
Support for the activities of the Timber Wolf Alliance come from private donations, sponsorships for the Wolf Awareness Week posters, and an active and dedicated Advisory Council, which is chaired by Adrian Wydeven and includes representatives from the Wisconsin and Michigan Departments of Natural Resources and the Bad River and Red Cliff Bands of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, as well as wildlife biologists, environmental educators, and interested citizens, some of whom have served on the Council since its founding.
For Wolf Awareness Week 2022, and in honor of the Institute’s 50th anniversary, the Timber Wolf Alliance’s poster features original essays by L. David Mech and David Backes, both of which focus on Sigurd Olson’s influence on wolf research and conservation. The keynote address for the Alliance’s celebration of Wolf Awareness Week features Tom Gable, project lead for the Voyageurs Wolf Project, and will focus on the past and future of wolf research in the Northwoods.