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The wolf I remember

She and five others were the first wolves brought from Canada to Yellowstone Park in 1995. Placed in acclimation pens near the park's northern border, they were numbered and a female, wolf No. 9, was paired with a male, No. 10. Held 10 weeks, the pair was released into the wild and began what, for better or worse, is the most notable and controversial wildlife conservation experiment in American history.

The pair traveled widely in southwestern Montana and soon gave birth to a litter of eight pups. Tragedy soon struck and the male was purposefully shot by a rogue gunman from Red Lodge. The U.S. Wildlife Service, knowing the high mortality of pups with only one parent, rounded up wolf No. 9 and her puppies, which at the time accounted for 40 percent of the Yellowstone wolves. The wolf mother, No. 9, was fondly renamed Murphy Brown for the popular television sitcom of the same name. The show, starring Candice Bergin, was about the perils of being a single-parent mom.

The following year, in the early fall, then Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt and I, along with park rangers, hiked through Yellowstone's northern backcountry to meet and feed Ms. Brown and her brood. Although I had resisted the relocation of wolves in Montana, my anticipation and pleasure rose as the high, secure chain link pen came into view. There she was — the wildest thing I ever saw, loping back and forth between us and her pups, her tongue hanging out a full 6 inches, her eyes glowing as though a candle shone behind each dark pupil. The pups, out of sight, huddled under branches and rocks in the pen's far corner. We placed food, including a bison leg and hindquarter, inside the pen while Murphy Brown and I played long-distance stare down — she won.

That October Ms. Brown and her growing pups were released. They were incredibly important as they dispersed widely and produced new packs. One of her original pups became the alpha male of the Druid Pack, which still roam in the Lamar Valley. Another, a female, eventually replaced Ms. Brown as lead of her Rose Creek Pack.

It was estimated that during her eight years Murphy Brown was related to almost 80 percent of Yellowstone wolves. The region's wolf population is now 1,651. I still remember being stared down by one of the first — that single-parent mom, Ms. Murphy Brown.


(Pat Williams served nine terms as a U.S. Representative from Montana. After his retirement, he returned to Montana and is teaching at The University of Montana.)

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