Wolf-watching, and more, at this NJ nature preserve
KNOWLTON — Since 1998, the Lakota Wolf Preserve in the Columbia section of this township has educated New Jerseyans about the lives and habits of wolf packs, and provided stunning, up-close views of these and other wild animals.
Its roots began in Colorado, with owner Jim Stein's apprenticeship at a site that rehabilitated rescued wolves. Stein eventually moved that operation to Warren County, where it's been ever since.
Rescues and rehabilitations continue at Lakota, including of wolves born into captivity and displayed at "roadside zoos," as Stein explained. With veterinary care, a natural diet (there's roadkill involved), and a relaxed habitat, wolves in the preserve's four packs can live for 15 to 16 years.
Stein and his wife have raised most of them from birth, nurturing them into the smart, intelligent, and powerful animals they are known to be.
"It's an animal that you're not going to get a chance to see out in the wild, and people can learn about it and see it in its natural environment," Stein said. "The enclosures we have them in are acres large, so we do our best to give them a natural environment."
Stein said the cinematic perception of wolf packs chasing people and attacking is "not true at all," claiming there have been no such documented instances in the U.S. in recent memory.
Instead, wolves typically avoid and are afraid of people. But if people are able to observe them long enough, they will see that, like their canine descendants, each wolf in a pack has a distinct disposition and personality.
Visitors to the preserve often remark to Stein that the wolf packs behave much like their dogs at home.
"They're like a human family," he said, adding that the name Lakota — taken from one of the preserve's first and most beloved wolves — is a Sioux Indian term meaning friend or ally. "They work together, they live together, and they survive together."
COVID-19 has limited the preserve to about one-eighth of its usual business, according to Stein, as only 25 people are permitted on a guided tour at a time right now. But whatever business is coming in has been steady, he said, because it's one of the few outdoor activities available year-round in the state.
The Lakota Wolf Preserve is privately owned but is regularly inspected by the state Division of Fish and Wildlife through the Department of Environmental Protection, and is also under the governance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Online reservations are required for a tour during the current COVID-19 restrictions. For more, go to lakotawolf.com.