Askins, Renée 1959(?)-

views updated

ASKINS, Renée 1959(?)-

PERSONAL: Born c. 1959 in Mackinaw State Park, MI; daughter of Rayomond (a businessman) and Chris (a medical technician) Askins; married Tom Rush (a folksinger): children: a daughter. Education: Kalamzaoo College, B.A., 1981; Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, master's degree, 1988.

ADDRESSES: Agent—Author's Mail, c/o Random House/Doubleday, 1540 Broadway New York, NY 10036.

CAREER: Animal activist and author.


Shadow Mountain: A Memoir of Wolves, a Woman, and the Wild, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2002.

SIDELIGHTS: Renée Askins became fascinated with wolves while an undergraduate student when she was given a wolf pup to care for by the director of a study she was working on. Askins formed a bond with the young pup that would ultimately lead her to develop the Wolf Fund with the sole purpose of reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone National Park. Askins's fourteen-year-plus quest did not go unopposed, especially by ranchers in Wyoming and other western U.S. states. Nevertheless, in 1995 wolves were released to once again roam Yellowstone. Askins has since authored Shadow Mountain: A Memoir of Wolves, a Woman, and the Wild, the story of her struggle to reintroduce an endangered animal to its native habitat.

Askins grew up in Michigan near Boyne City and loved the woods and riding horses. She attended Kalamazoo College, where she wrote a theology paper on the wolf's role in religion and its traditional association with the devil. The next year she studied a captive wolf as it raised three litters of wolves at a research facility in Battle Ground, Indiana. When the director gave her a pup to look after for three months, Askins kept a journal about the experience. "She had such dignity, and there was a level of sophistication and communication between her and the other wolves that I had never been aware of," Askins told Susan Reed in People. In 1981 Askins got a job in Jackson, Wyoming, assisting John Weaver, a biologist working on reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone. She made little money and lived for a time in a teepee, but she revealed a knack for organizing a series of lectures and workshops featuring renowned writers like Barry Lopez and Peter Mathiessen. In 1985 Askins moved to New Haven, Connecticut, to attend Yale's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, where she received her master's degree. During that time she also met her future husband, folksinger Tom Rush.

Shortly before leaving Wyoming, Askins held a fundraising dinner to establish the Wolf Fund, which she created in 1986 under the aegis of The Center for Humanities and the Environment, to reintroduce wolves to Yellowstone. "Since 1980 or '81, I'd been working on the issue, and I didn't feel we were making much progress," Askins noted in Audubon. She went on to tell Audubon contributor Nicholas Dawidoff that she wanted to create an organization with a "specificity of focus . . . devoted to a single project. What I began to visualize and wanted to create was not an organization but a vehicle to accomplish a goal. A conservation SWAT team, very focused, very bright, light on its feet and adaptable to a highly dynamic political scene."

Time Online writer Andrea Sachs asked Askins why she was attracted to wolves. Askins replied, "Whether we hate them or love them, they evoke passion that is beyond words." Askins also pointed out that people identify with wolves because they are social in nature and predators, just like humans. She noted that these similarities both threaten and attract people. "Whether you live in New York City, or Moose, Wyoming, I am a firm believer in the importance of animas in our lives," continued Askins. "I think those relationships are as deep and profound as many human relationships are."

Through the Wolf Fund and her undying dedication to her mission, Askins eventually witnessed the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone in 1995. In Shadow Mountain Askins chronicles that battle, including the struggle with red tape, bureaucrats, and western ranchers who view the wolf as an unnecessary evil. In the process, she recounts her passion for wildlife and ponders ethical and philosophical issues associated with wildlife management, including her own personal motives behind her efforts.

Deborah Emerson, writing in the Library Journal, found that "Askins's mix of personal philosophy and natural history doesn't quite work," while a Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that Askins "overwrites." Nevertheless, many reviewers found the book an interesting and important account of how Askins has worked to renew and reshape humans' relationships with animals. Although objecting to several episodes in the book—such as Askins's spontaneously howling—New York Times Book Review contributor Margaret Hundley Parker called Shadow Mountain "fun to read." BookPage contributor Maude McDaniel noted that the book "Demonstrates the kind of deep natural wisdom and sense of awe at the wild that has distinguished writers like Edwin Muir, Annie Dillard and Aldo Leopold." She also commented on the author's "wonderfully poignant wolf and dog stories." A Publishers Weekly contributor noted, "Askins accomplishes her task with fascinating anecdotes and insightful introspection." The reviewer went on to say, "The author is most engaging when she candidly recounts the emotional bruises from her sometimes na[00ef]ve misperceptions about both the brutal natural world and the rough-and-tumble world of Western ecological politics. In honestly detailing these revelatory episodes, Askins reexamines her scientific suppositions and her personal premises."

As for her ultimate success in reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone, Askins has noted that her most important skill was her ability to listen. "One of my goals was to be able to argue the position of my opponents better than they could so that I truly and completely absorbed their concerns," she commented on the Public Broadcast Service Web site. "In doing that, I think a lot of trust was created."



Audubon, July-August, 1992, Nicholas Dawidoff, review of Shadow Mountain: A Memoir of Wolves, a Woman, and the Wild, pp. 38-45.

BookPage, July, 2002, Maude McDaniel, review of Shadow Mountain: A Memoir of Wolves, a Woman, and the Wild, p. 27.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2002, review of ShadowMountain: A Memoir of Wolves, a Woman, and the Wild, p. 535.

Library Journal, May 15, 2002, Deborah Emerson, review of Shadow Mountain: A Memoir of Wolves, a Woman, and the Wild, p. 122.

New York Times Book Review, July 28, 2002, Margaret Hundley Parker, "The Pack Is Back," p. 12.

People, September 21, 1992, Susan Reed, "Wild at Heart," p. 133.

Publishers Weekly, May 6, 2002, review of ShadowMountain: A Memoir of Wolves, a Woman, and the Wild, p. 44.


Public Broadcast Service Web site, (October 14, 2002), "Whatever Happened to Renee Askins?"

Seattle Times Online, (October 14, 2002), Irene Wanner, "The Woman Who Gave New Life to the Wolf."

Time Online, (October 14, 2002), Andrea Sachs, "Crying Wolf."*