Montana State University

Wolf sanctuary offers MSU students real-life experiences

July 25, 2008 -- By Deb Redburn, for the MSU News Service

MSU instructor and Howler's Inn proprietor Chris Bahn spends time after an evening feeding with one of two new wolf pups at his wolf sanctuary.(MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.)    High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
Bozeman -- Education students at Montana State University are often asked to create lesson plans in their methods of teaching classes. What made instructor Chris Bahn's spring-semester assignment unique was that his students had to create a lesson plan for an elementary school field trip at a wolf sanctuary, which is part of a bed and breakfast that Bahn and his wife, Mary-Martha, have owned since 2004.

Bahn credits the idea for the outdoor experience to his students, who were intrigued once they found out he had wolves.

"I saw that we had an animal science unit coming up and thought that having the students plan out the logistics and educational focus of a field trip would fit right in to what I was teaching and what the future holds for them as teachers," said Bahn, who holds a regular appointment as an adjunct in MSU's chemistry department.

When developing lesson plans, Bahn encouraged the class to think outside the box.

"He challenged us to use an integrated approach when planning our units--to incorporate math, science, art, and literature," said Casey Cummings, a junior from Reno, Nev.

"We had to decide what we were going to teach before we took the trip. We had to think about how to plan a lesson and what we wanted students to learn from this field trip," Cummings said.

Nicola Cooper, a senior from Bury St. Edmunds, England, designed her unit, "Life within the Pack," to include a comparison of life within the wolf pack to life in family situations. She integrated art and science by having students design a picture of the hierarchy of a wolf pack.

"It was a great hands-on activity," Cooper said. "It was nice to apply a real-life situation to the classroom."

"Integrated units were a good way to get kids to like science," Kelli Mariscal, a senior from Kalispell, Mont., said. In her unit, she focused more on language arts by using stories such as "The Three Little Pigs" to expose students to stereotypes often associated with wolves. Her students would discuss how their perceptions changed after a visit to the wolf sanctuary.

"When I was a kid, wolves were my favorite animal, so this was awesome to see. We got to observe them in small groups so they would get used to us. We even got to pat one through the fence," Mariscal said.

Bahn and his wife came to own the wolf sanctuary after looking around the West for a bed and breakfast. The couple wanted a change from the Denver area, where Bahn taught high school math and science, though wolves were not originally part of the plan.

Then they found Howlers Inn in the Bridger Mountains near Bozeman. Bahn and his family "fell in love with the idea" from the first time they saw the property and watched the wolves, he said.

Howlers Inn is home to six adult timber wolves and two Alaskan tundra wolf pups, which are a recent addition from a game farm in Kalispell. The adults range in age from 11 to 14 years and have all the characteristics of a pack with an alpha female and an alpha male. Since the adult wolves are aging, Bahn hopes to rejuvenate the pack with the addition of the two pups, which are now a year old.

"All of the wolves are captive bred. They can never be released into the wild because they wouldn't survive. With us, their life span is almost double," Bahn said. "When we first moved in, it took the wolves six to seven months to get used to us. Gradually, they have become habituated."

The sanctuary, which has been in existence since 1993 and is licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture, is a four-acre fenced area where the wolves are free to roam. Bahn feeds them a high-protein dog food five days a week, and twice a week, he treats each of them to five pounds of frozen meat.

The B & B gives Bahn an opportunity to educate his lodgers - and students - and let them see one of nature's most "elusive, misunderstood, and majestic creatures up close," he said.

Contact: Deb Redburn, (406) 994-4133 or