For 20 years, Robert (Bob) Hayes was the Yukon’s wolf biologist. During those years, he studied hundreds of radio-collared wolves and conducted several long-term wolf-prey studies. He is considered a world expert on moose and caribou predation by wolves and the effects of wolf control efforts on wolves and their prey.
Over time, his studies led him to the conclusion that much of what governments have been doing to control wolves in the wild, including aerial hunting, just doesn’t work, and that non-lethal methods of wolf control is the future for management of this species.
This led him to spend years writing his first book for public consumption, Wolves of the Yukon, a book which he self-published and has been a success in both English and German editions.
“I think a biologist, especially a government biologist, has some responsibility for communicating their knowledge and perspectives to the public in a way that will make senses to people,” he said as we chatted via Skype for this article.
Most of his writing up to that point had been technical in nature, the sort of dry accounts laden with technical terms that scientists write to be read by other scientists. It serves a purpose, but he found it very limiting in terms of what could be expressed.
Writing a book for general consumption was a challenging task – and one that he found difficult, but also exhilarating.
“Jack London was my inspiration – mostly his northern books. I wrote a story in high school like ‘To Build a Fire,’ that I called ‘The Flickering Flame,’ but then I got into science and I was almost 51 before I started writing Wolves.”
Since it came out in 2010, Hayes has given over 100 talks based on that book, in both Western Canada and Germany, where the book was printed.
The proper way to view pure science, he said, referencing a quotation by Albert Einstein, is that it’s not about what can be made useful immediately, it’s about what may pay off a generation down the line. This is particularly relevant in a year when Einstein’s theoretical speculations about the existence of gravity waves – made 100 years ago – seem to have been proven correct.
“I have another book, now,” he said. “I decided I wanted to try fiction, so I did that.”
There’s just a touch of fiction in Wolves. There are seven little “day in the life” vignettes about wolf packs and humans, set from 20,000 years in the past to just the middle of the last century. He used them to set the context for the more factual material.
In writing a novel, he returned to the second of these, set near the Old Crow Flats, as the inspiration for a story that takes place about 14,000 years ago.
“It explores life and the challenges of survival at the end of the Ice Age. There’s a wolf story that’s interwoven with a story about people. There’s a boy and a girl and wolf, a really bad guy, and a bad brother. There are animals, lions, and all kinds of different challenges.”
While it has young people among its protagonists, it’s intended to be a novel for all ages.
At the end of that project he’s feeling that he’s learning how to be a good writer, but it’s a difficult process.
“I’m fortunate that I have the time to do it, and the energy and interest.”
Bob Hayes will be one of the mentor authors at this year’s Young Authors Conference on April 21 and 22 at F.H. Collins High School in Whitehorse.