It was 1978, and there had been no resident timber wolves in Wisconsin for twenty years. Still, packs were active in neighboring Minnesota, and there was the occasional rumor from Wisconsin's northwestern countries of wolf sign or sightings. Had wolves returned on their own to Wisconsin? Dick Thiel, then a college student with a passion for wolves, was determined to find out. Thus begins Keepers of the Wolves, Thiel's tale of his ten years at the center of efforts to track and protect the recovery of wolves in Northern Wisconsin. From his early efforts as a student enthusiast to his departure in 1989 from the post of wolf biologist for the Department of Natural Resources, Thiel conveys the wonder, frustrations, humor, and everyday hard work of field biologists, as well as the politics and public relations pitfalls that so often accompany their profession. We share in the excitement as Thiel and his colleagues find wolf tracks in the snow, howl in the forest night and are answered back, learn to safely trap wolves to attach radio collars, and track the packs' ranges by air from a cramped Piper Cub. We follow the stories of individual wolves and their packs as pups are born and die, wolves are shot by accident and by intent, ravages of canine parvovirus and hard winters take their toll, and young adults move on to new ranges. Believing he'd left his beloved wolves behind, Thiel takes a new job as an environmental educator in central Wisconsin, but soon wolves follow. By 1999, there were an estimated 200 timber wolves in 54 packs in Wisconsin.
Richard P. Thiel is coordinator of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Sandhill Outdoor Skills Center in Babcock, Wisconsin. He was team chairman for Wisconsin's wolf recovery plan in the late 1980s. He is the author of The Timber Wolf in Wisconsin, a history of wolf extermination in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.