Source: New York Times
By Christopher Solomon
When we met last fall, Wielgus, who is 61, wasn’t wearing his bush hat, however, but a straw cowboy hat pulled low over his eyes. He was, he explained, in disguise. We had rendezvoused in Republic, a faded former mining town of about a thousand people in the northeastern part of Washington State. Stores wore boomtown facades to tempt passing drivers and their dollars to linger. But this was mid-October: Pickup trucks throttled past on the main drag, hauling hay and firewood for a winter that would slump down from Canada any day.
Wielgus had spent years in the surrounding woods doing research, and he loved the area. Now he considered it hostile territory. Before he pushed through the swinging doors of a bar, he paused and lifted an untucked shirt to show me the black handle of a .357 handgun poking from the front pocket of his jeans. “Too many death threats,” he said. “I never started carrying this till I started studying wolves.”
Not long ago, Wielgus was a respected researcher at Washington State University in Pullman, in the far eastern part of the state, with his own prosperous lab and several graduate students under his guidance. His specialty was North American apex predators — mountain lions and bears. Over a 35-year career, Wielgus has published surprising research about how these animals behave, especially once their paths cross with civilization. Unlike some wildlife research, which can be esoteric, Wielgus’s work by its nature has concrete, real-world implications. And Wielgus, by his nature, hasn’t been shy about emerging from academia to tell wildlife managers, ranchers and politicians exactly how they have screwed up and why they should pay more attention to him and his findings. He is accustomed to being the least-popular man in the room.
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