Leader of the pack

There’s something truly magical about listening to the melodic three-part harmony of Alawa and her two brothers, Nikai and Zephyr.

The sound starts with a simple fluid movement. Nikai stretches his head skyward and closes his eyes. His neck is perpendicular to the ground. He lets out a high note, which cues his brother and sister to join in.

The sound is pure and beautiful and Zen-like, although cattle ranchers out west would beg to differ. You see, this family is made up of Canadian/Rocky Mountain gray wolves. And these creatures are pretty much hated by ranchers and cowboys who have the ears of politicians looking to delist wolves from the Endangered Species Act. (More on this later.)

As to what brought on this impromptu concert in the wilds of Westchester County, the answer is the vocal stylings of Maggie Howell, executive director of the Wolf Conservation Center. When Howell was last in these pages (November 2011), she was the center’s managing director, committed to educating the public about wolves and their reintroduction across sections of the nation.

Today, she is still afire in that mission. 

Howell is keeping watch on Congress as attempts are made to weaken the Endangered Species Act via special legislation hidden in other bills. She cuts to the chase to explain the reasons for such actions.

“Annoyed by the fact that endangered species protection decisions are by federal law based on science rather than politics, some congressional leaders are trying to slip a legislative noose around some of the nation’s most imperiled species by loading the must-pass spending bills with dozens of anti-environmental riders, including some that eliminate Endangered Species Act protections for all gray wolves nationwide — including critically endangered Mexican gray wolves,” Howell says. “Hunting, trapping and poisoning caused the initial extinction of Mexican gray wolves. Now wild lobos may face extinction for a second time, but at the hands of Congress.”

In an abridged run through her life, Howell grew up far from wild animals in the Chelsea section of Manhattan, studied biology at Vassar College and did research and analytics for Reuters’ stock trading business Instinet (“money was great, but not what I wanted to do.”)

Taking what she called “a leap of faith,” Howell headed West, as in the state of Washington and then Arizona. At a wildlife park north of Phoenix, she found a natural calling in wolves. As luck would have it, she heard of an opening at the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem. Wolves in Westchester? Who knew? 

The center was founded in 1999 by pianist Hélène Grimaud. Her former home now serves as the offices for the nonprofit on 28 acres of hilly land off Route 35. Howell — who lives in Somers with her husband, operations manager Spencer Wilhelm, and their daughter — just marked 11 years with the center.

There’s something to be said about someone so dedicated who, along with a small staff and a team of volunteers, carries the weight of making sure an entire species isn’t wiped out from the face of the planet.

Howell is keeping track of Congress, a trait perhaps picked up from the wolves.

For more, visit nywolf.org.

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