Filmmakers discuss life among wolves

Since the first European colonists set foot on American soil almost 400 years ago, humans have killed more than 2 million gray wolves.

In that same time period, no humans have been killed by wolves, said Jamie Dutcher.

Dutcher, along with husband Jim, spent six years living among wolves in the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho. They produced an Emmy-award winning documentary for the Discovery Channel, imparting a wealth of knowledge about one of the most “misunderstood” species in North America.

“Our goal was to listen to the wolves…not as scientists, but as social partners,” Jim Dutcher said.

The Dutchers spoke to a crowd of about 150 Wednesday night at Red Butte Garden about their experiences with the Sawtooth pack and the misconceptions they say many people hold about wolves.

“There is something about wolves that absolutely captivates the hearts and minds of many people…Our own intimate relationship with this pack has given us a deeper appreciation for the thousands of wolves we’ll never know, but always imagine,” Jim Dutcher said.

The Dutchers were the first in a series of six speakers in “Wolves and People,” a program sponsored by the S.J. Quinney College of Law’s Wallace Stegner Center.

Though no human has been killed by a healthy wolf, people still hold misconceptions about the animals that the Dutchers say are unfounded and detrimental to the growth of the species since its reintroduction to North America in 1994.

“Without education, wolves have no hope in our society. Unfortunately, it’s the more serious side of wolves people see the most…they’re viewed as bloodthirsty creatures of the devil,” Jamie Dutcher said.

In fact, that’s one of three perceptions the Dutchers discovered most people held about wolves in the wild.

The “wolf of nightmares,” Jim Dutcher said, was a European conception of wolf behavior that Americans brought with them when they began settling in the United States.

The “empirical wolf of science,” he said, is usually just depicted as a statistic or a data set, completely disavowing the vast array of individual characteristics every wolf displays.

Finally, Jim Dutcher said, the “spirit wolf” is held as a creature of great wisdom and is looked at as a spiritual guide.

All of these facets of wolf behavior don’t do justice to the essence of wolf behavior, he said.

“A wolf is neither demon nor deity nor biological robot. They exhibit extreme devotion to their family or pack,” Jim Dutcher said.

The Dutchers raised a pack of eight wolves on a 25-acre enclosure in the Sawtooth Mountains, living in tents among them to bestow trust in the animals before filming them.

“In order to gain the wolves’ trust, we had to play with them from the moment they opened their eyes. We never considered them pets…everything was on their terms,” Jamie Dutcher said.

The next installment is on Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. in the Marriott Library’s Gould Auditorium.

Every lecture is free and open to the public.

For more information, call 585-3440, or visit www.law.utah.edu/stegner/calendar.html.

abenson@chronicle.utah.edu