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A Good Wolf: Navigating the Tensions of Wildlife Conservation in Denali and Beyond

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“A Good Wolf” by Ramey Newell examines the 40-year conflict over land near Denali National Park, exploring the clash between wildlife advocates and local trappers, and drawing parallels to Colorado’s wolf reintroduction efforts.

Film Title: A Good Wolf
Director: Ramey Newell
Genre: Documentary
Runtime: 98 minutes

In the compelling documentary “A Good Wolf,” director Ramey Newell delves into a decades-long conflict centered around a contested piece of land adjacent to Denali National Park in Alaska. This intricate and emotionally charged film navigates through the volatile struggle between state and federal authorities, fur trappers, wildlife advocates, and competing human interests on public lands. Armed with extensive data and a passion for conservation, biologists and activists present a new proposal to state authorities, aiming to restore protections for wolves near the park’s boundary. However, the local trappers, whose livelihoods are intertwined with the land, vehemently oppose these measures. The film explores the delicate balance of preserving America’s iconic animals and wild places against the backdrop of human interests and economic considerations.

Denali National Park, Alaska.

Plot and Narrative

“A Good Wolf” unfolds its narrative with the meticulous care of a seasoned storyteller. The film opens with breathtaking shots of Denali National Park, capturing the raw beauty of its landscapes and the majestic presence of wolves in their natural habitat. This serene introduction is quickly contrasted with the tension and conflict that have brewed for over 40 years.

The documentary expertly interweaves the stories of various stakeholders, providing a balanced view of the complex issues at play. On one side, we see biologists and wildlife advocates who passionately argue for the protection of the wolf population. Their data-driven approach highlights the ecological importance of wolves and the devastating impact of unchecked trapping on the ecosystem.

On the other side, the film portrays the trappers not as villains, but as individuals whose way of life and economic survival are deeply connected to the land. Through candid interviews, we gain an understanding of their perspective and the historical context that has shaped their practices and beliefs. This nuanced portrayal ensures that the audience appreciates the depth of the conflict beyond a simple binary of right and wrong.

Cinematography and Direction

Ramey Newell’s direction is a standout element of “A Good Wolf.” The film’s cinematography, helmed by Newell and a team of talented camera operators, captures the stark beauty of the Alaskan wilderness with a sense of reverence and urgency. The aerial shots of Denali’s expansive terrains and intimate close-ups of the wolves in their natural behavior are visually stunning, creating an immersive experience for the viewers.

Newell’s storytelling approach is both methodical and emotive. The film transitions smoothly between interviews, on-the-ground footage, and historical archives, maintaining a cohesive narrative flow. The use of visuals to complement the interviews is particularly effective, as it underscores the film’s key messages without overwhelming the audience with technical jargon.

Themes and Messages

At its core, “A Good Wolf” is a meditation on conservation, coexistence, and the ethical dilemmas inherent in managing public lands. The film raises critical questions about the role of government in wildlife protection, the rights of local communities, and the broader implications of environmental stewardship.

One of the film’s most compelling themes is the concept of coexistence. Through the voices of biologists and activists, “A Good Wolf” emphasizes that the survival of iconic species like the wolf is not just an environmental issue but a moral imperative. The film suggests that finding a balance between human activities and wildlife conservation is essential for the health of our ecosystems and the integrity of our natural heritage.

The documentary also explores the socio-economic dimensions of the conflict. By giving voice to the trappers, Newell highlights the often-overlooked human cost of conservation efforts. The film challenges viewers to consider the complexities of livelihood, tradition, and change, urging a more empathetic and inclusive approach to environmental policy.

Relevance to Colorado: A Parallel Narrative

The themes and issues presented in “A Good Wolf” resonate deeply with current events in Colorado, where a similar debate over wolf reintroduction is unfolding. In November 2020, Colorado voters narrowly passed Proposition 114, mandating the reintroduction of gray wolves into the wild by the end of 2023. This historic decision has ignited a fierce debate among conservationists, ranchers, hunters, and state authorities, mirroring the conflict depicted in Newell’s documentary.

Conservation Efforts and Ecological Balance

Like the biologists and activists in Alaska, Colorado’s wildlife advocates argue that reintroducing wolves is crucial for restoring ecological balance. Wolves are apex predators that play a vital role in regulating prey populations and maintaining healthy ecosystems. Their presence can lead to a cascade of positive environmental effects, known as trophic cascades, which benefit a variety of plant and animal species.

In “A Good Wolf,” the biologists present extensive data on the positive impact of wolves on the ecosystem, an argument that Colorado conservationists also use to support reintroduction. The parallels are striking, as both groups emphasize the scientific and ecological rationale for bringing wolves back to their natural habitats.

Economic and Cultural Concerns

However, as in Alaska, the reintroduction of wolves in Colorado faces significant opposition from local communities, particularly ranchers and hunters. In the documentary, trappers express their fears and frustrations about how wolf protection measures threaten their livelihoods. Similarly, many Colorado ranchers are concerned about the potential loss of livestock and the economic impact of wolf predation.

The cultural connection to the land and traditional practices is another common thread. In both regions, local communities have long-standing practices and ways of life that are deeply intertwined with the land. The introduction or protection of wolves challenges these traditions, creating a sense of uncertainty and resistance among those whose lives and livelihoods are affected.

Public Lands and Policy

“A Good Wolf” explores the tension between state and federal authorities over wildlife management policies. This dynamic is also evident in Colorado, where state agencies must navigate the complex interplay of federal regulations, local interests, and public opinion. The film’s depiction of bureaucratic challenges and the need for collaborative solutions is highly relevant to Colorado’s efforts to implement wolf reintroduction in a way that balances ecological goals with the needs of local communities.

A Call for Empathy and Dialogue

One of the most powerful messages of “A Good Wolf” is the importance of empathy and dialogue in resolving conflicts over wildlife conservation. The film encourages viewers to understand and respect the perspectives of all stakeholders, a lesson that is particularly pertinent for Colorado. As the state moves forward with its reintroduction plan, fostering open communication and seeking common ground will be essential for success.

The film’s balanced portrayal of both conservationists and trappers serves as a reminder that sustainable solutions require considering the human dimension of environmental issues. In Colorado, this means engaging with ranchers, hunters, and other community members to address their concerns and find mutually beneficial strategies for coexistence with wolves.

Impact and Reception

“A Good Wolf” has been met with critical acclaim for its balanced and insightful exploration of a contentious issue. Audiences and critics alike have praised the film for its ability to present multiple perspectives without bias, fostering a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by both conservationists and local communities.

The documentary has sparked conversations about the need for collaborative solutions in wildlife management. By bringing the plight of Denali’s wolves to the forefront, “A Good Wolf” has galvanized support for renewed protective measures and has highlighted the importance of continued dialogue between opposing sides.

Looking Ahead

The reintroduction of wolves in Colorado is a significant and ongoing process that will undoubtedly face challenges similar to those depicted in “A Good Wolf.” By drawing parallels between the experiences in Alaska and Colorado, the documentary offers valuable insights and lessons for policymakers, conservationists, and the public.

As Colorado embarks on this ambitious conservation effort, the story of Denali’s wolves provides a poignant reminder of the complexities and rewards of restoring balance to our natural world. “A Good Wolf” not only highlights the importance of protecting iconic species but also underscores the need for inclusive and compassionate approaches to wildlife management.


“A Good Wolf” is a powerful and thought-provoking documentary that sheds light on the intricate and often contentious relationships between humans and the natural world. Ramey Newell’s masterful direction and the film’s stunning cinematography make it a compelling watch for anyone interested in conservation, wildlife, and the complexities of managing public lands.

The film’s balanced approach ensures that it resonates with a broad audience, encouraging viewers to think critically about the ethical and practical dimensions of wildlife protection. “A Good Wolf” is not just a film about wolves; it is a poignant reflection on the values we hold and the legacy we wish to leave for future generations. As the debate over Denali’s wolves continues, this documentary stands as a testament to the power of storytelling in shaping public perception and inspiring change.

In Colorado, where the reintroduction of wolves is just beginning, the lessons from “A Good Wolf” are especially relevant. By understanding the intricate balance of ecological, economic, and cultural factors, and by fostering a spirit of empathy and dialogue, Colorado can navigate its own path towards coexistence and conservation.

Note: “A Good Wolf” premiered at the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival, an event known for showcasing powerful documentaries focused on environmental, cultural, and social issues. The premiere took place in May 25, 2024, providing an apt platform for the film’s message of conservation and coexistence to reach a broad and engaged audience​ (Alaska Wildlife Alliance (AWA))​.

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