Every year since 1977, the third week of October marks Wolf Awareness Week in the United States.
As part of this week recognizing the importance of efforts to reestablish wolf populations in their historical ranges around the country, the Timber Wolf Alliance - a 20-year-old program of the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute of Northland College in Ashland, Wis. - develops informational posters about wolves and distributes them to schools, libraries, nature centers and interested individuals.
Elise Hammond, artist and director of the Southern Heartland Art Gallery in Covington, has won the 2007 National Wolf Awareness Week Poster Contest for her painting "Red Wolf Refuge."
"In 1992 my husband and I had gone to North Carolina to visit the Biltmore home and I had a 'Southern Living,'" Hammond said, "and I was just sort of poking through it when I found an article about the reintroduction of the red wolf to its indigenous areas."
Through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Hammond came into contact with biologists in several different states working on population recovery of the endangered red wolf, which is the species unique to the southeastern United States.
Her research with the Red Wolf Recovery Program has taken her to Tennessee, Missouri and North Carolina.
"I had been praying for something to do in my art that was for my self," Hammond said, "and that was not just a commission."
After countless hours photographing and videotaping wolves at zoos and wildlife refuges, in 1999, her painting "May Morning Hunt" also won the poster contest.
This year's poster has a setting photographed by Hammond at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina with wolves from the Knoxville Zoo inserted into the landscape.
"I got an e-mail from one of the biologists there and he said it looked just like one of the places where he often sees wolves resting by the canal, which made me feel good about it," Hammond said.
The Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge has successfully reintroduced and grown a pack of red wolves on a swampy North Carolina peninsula surrounded by soybean fields.
"The first year the wolves were released there, the farmers were so happy because they kept the white tail deer population from eating so many of their soybean plants so they had a bigger crop that year," Hammond said.
Deer are a mainstay of the red wolf diet.
In 1977, only 14 captured wolves met the criteria of the red wolf subspecies. Since the inception of the Red Wolf Recovery Program, more than 500 have been born into the wild in North Carolina.
The back of Hammond's poster highlights the two decades of red wolf recovery efforts as well as shows current information about wolf packs and subspecies across the United States.
Hammond said she would enjoy learning more about and illustrating the Mexican wolf, or lobo, next. That project would require travel to the southwest United States, so she has not yet scheduled a time to visit.
"You have to support people who are doing things they are passionate about," Hammond said, "and care about them with their whole heart."
To order a poster by mail, send a $6 check or money order for shipping and handling to the Timber Wolf Alliance, Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute, Northland College, 1411 Ellis Avenue, Ashland, WI 54806.
For more information about the Institute or the Timber Wolf Alliance, call (715) 682-1223 or visit www.northland.edu/soei.