| Vicki Whisenhunt

Littleton Academy Students Make Friends With Wolves

Littleton Academy Students Make Friends With WolvesThe excitement was thick in the air at the idea of making friends with wolves! It was a wet morning at Littleton Academy as 5th graders and parents said their farewells. We had a four and a half hour drive to the Sangre De Cristo range where, a ridge away from the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, we would be camping out, doing service work and making friends with wolves on our Cottonwood Institute trip to Mission: Wolf.

Through the guidance of volunteers Casey, Tricia and founder Kent, students and chaperones were treated to an educational and interactive tour of the Mission: Wolf sanctuary for wolves. Like many of our students and parent chaperones, I had my reservations about being inches away from 28 wolves of varying temperaments. Students learned about the staggering 250,000 wolves in captivity around the country, the historical hunting of wolves and how these events resulted in the ecological imbalance that we witness today across North America. The rising population of deer, displacement of elk and moose are all drawn directly to the lack of predators which historically kept these populations in balance.

Students also discussed wolf-reintroduction, which is being successfully explored today. The foundation of this movement is a process called Trophic Cascade, which refers to how a keystone species positively affects all parts of its ecosystem. A process which has unequivocally shown it is possible with educated planning to reverse the degraded state of our wild places.

Littleton Academy Students Make Friends With WolvesThe culmination of our anticipation was realized when we physically interacted with Kent’s “Ambassador Wolves.” These wolves are but three of the 28, ones which perceive most humans as wolf pups to be explored and played with. In that moment there seemed to be little difference between many of the dogs we had known in our lives and these supposedly vicious pack hunters. Kisses and nuzzles were exchanged as we experienced the transformation of gazing deeply into a wolves eyes, our noses against theirs. But our weekend was nothing if not an adjustment of the way we think about certain animals and the way in which we interact with the environment.

The key to Cottonwood Institute’s mission is service-learning, the idea of engaging in volunteer activities as a vehicle for not just learning about but experiencing the work of key environmental issues in our local communities. Despite looming spring-time thunderstorms we helped the sanctuary move hundreds of pounds of firewood so they can be in compliance with United States Forest Service wild-fire mitigation protocols. Beyond understanding these fundamentals of educated environmental management, students learned the value of volunteering for an organization which runs entirely on volunteer efforts. They learned to give back.

This trip was the culmination of the year’s in-school curriculum about wolves. Students clutched wolf stuffies, bearing bright hoodies with one of Mission: Wolf’s refrains below the wise face of a painted wolf; “Education Vs. Extinction.” With the chorus of the wolves together at our back we drove home tired, dirty and with minds and muscles expanded.

Written by Field Instructor Scott Mansfield

See more photos from the trip here!


Categories: Littleton Academy, Mission: Wolf, Program News

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