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North Dakota Outdoors 4/19/1995

Are they out there? Here, in North Dakota? Perhaps. And perhaps not . . .

If they are, it's just briefly. Quick visitors who have crossed the line from Canada or Minnesota, and likely will go back again soon.

Grey wolf. There were here once. Here, in power, here in their swift, fatal grace. Here in a perfect adaptation to their environment and their prey.

If the buffalo was king of the prairie, then the wolf was prince. Buffalo crossed the prairie thick as a moving grass, grizzlies roamed, but it was the wolf's howl that was the sound of a sovereign appraising his domain.

Wolves fed on the buffalo, following the great herds. Their hunting kept the bison herds healthy. The remaining bison -- the swiftest, the strongest -- passed their genes on to their offspring. It was the wolf who insured the buffalo's awesome toughness.

The buffalo herds have vanished, and the wolves with them ... Or have they? Reports still come in. And not just in the north. Sometimes as far south as Jamestown, or Wahpeton ... Likely just a large dog -- a coyote. But it's just possible there's a lone male roaming at night across the state, skimming by sleeping houses, following an instinct as old as the moon.

Or even -- a fledgling pack somethere, preparing to raise their pups ... in the middle of all this enterprise. A 19th century original looking for a 20th century niche. We can never expect to again have wolves ... as in the buffalo days.

There are no recorded instances of a wild wolf attacking a human in North America. Little Red Riding Hood was mistaken. Yet for thousands of years, stories have abounded about wolves' danger to man. All of them -- untrue.

What is it about wolves that strikes some responsive chord, both adoring and loathing, right in the marrow of our bones? Could it be their freedom -- the ability to run swift as a throught through the dark of night -- that we envy? Or some look in that yellow eye that says, We are the Wild. We are the last of the Wild.

What does that howl to the moon really mean? One wonders. I wonder, at least.

This is Lex Hames for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, out in the wonderful mystery ... of the outdoors.

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