Archive for Monday, December 7, 2009

Wolf recovery at crossroads

December 7, 2009


A Mexican gray wolf moves through his new home, a third of an acre pen, after being released from a cage in Hannagan Meadows, Ariz., in this Jan. 26, 1998, file photo.

A Mexican gray wolf moves through his new home, a third of an acre pen, after being released from a cage in Hannagan Meadows, Ariz., in this Jan. 26, 1998, file photo.

— A decade has passed since the federal government began returning endangered Mexican wolves to their historic range in the Southwest. It hasn’t worked out — for the wolves, for ranchers, for conservationists or for federal biologists.

And that has resulted in frustration and resentment by many involved in the reintroduction program along the Arizona-New Mexico border, a landscape of sprawling pine and spruce forests, cold-water lakes and clear streams.

“I believe in being a good steward of the land and preserving it for generations to come, but this is ridiculous,” said Ed Wehrheim, who heads the county commission in Catron County, in the heart of wolf country. “I’ve had ranchers’ wives come to me just bawling because everything they and their parents have worked for is going down the drain.”

Four ranches have gone out of business since the wolf reintroduction began and another four are expected to do the same before next summer, Wehrheim said.

Economic effects

The region has been hit by drought, and cattle prices aren’t what they used to be, but Wehrheim said pressure from environmentalists and hundreds of livestock kills by Mexican gray wolves over the past decade have only made things worse.

Environmentalists argue that grazing practices are part of the problem and that the wolf reintroduction program has failed because of mismanagement by the federal government.

In the middle stands Bud Fazio, coordinator of the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction program.

The program is at a crossroads, and Fazio said he hopes to bring everyone back to the table to find a way to move forward, quell concerns of critical environmentalists and gain the confidence of wary ranchers.

“One thing about wolves is they bring out extreme emotions and feelings and attitudes, so it is an extra challenge,” he said. “There is some middle ground. There is some balance, but my sense is that so far we haven’t found that in the Southwest and we need to.”

The return of the wolves

A subspecies of the gray wolf, the Mexican wolf was exterminated in the wild by the 1930s. The government began reintroducing wolves in 1998 along the Arizona-New Mexico line, in a territory of more than 4 million acres interspersed with forests, private land and towns.

There are about 50 wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico, but that’s half of what biologists had hoped to have by now.

Federal, state and other officials involved in wolf recovery are scheduled to meet next week in Albuquerque for the first of many “frank discussions” about the future of the program, Fazio said.

Part of the reason for the talks is a recent settlement with environmentalists that called for an end to a three-strikes rule that allowed wildlife managers to trap or shoot wolves that had killed at least three head of livestock within a year.

The settlement also made clear that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has control over the program, rather than a committee formed in 2003 to bring other agencies into the recovery effort.

Resolving problems

The original rule that established the reintroduction program still allows managers to remove problem wolves, but Fazio said officials will now consider many factors — such as the wolf’s genetic value to the program and its reproductive success — before making decisions on keeping an animal in the wild.

Wehrheim and the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association maintain the settlement changes nothing because the wolf program had already started to leave wolves with more than three strikes in the wild. They pointed to the Middle Fork pack, which was blamed for 10 livestock kills in two months.

The pack includes four pups and two adults, both of which are missing their front left paws.

Federal biologists say the pack is now hunting elk and relying less on strategically placed food caches.

Ranchers say that leaving the maimed wolves in the wild encourages them to go after easy prey such as calves.


cowboy 8 years, 5 months ago

With the cost of feed you can't make any money on cattle anyway , if the gov't would pay me for my lost stock they can come eat mine !

Go Wolves !

JimCarlson 8 years, 5 months ago

Hundreds of cattle killed by 52 wolves, eh? Guess those ranchers are pretty bad at their jobs. And with millions of tax-payers' dollars going to support their lifestyle choices, too. You'd think they'd be better managers. There are thousands of wolves in Minnesota, but farms aren't going out of business there.

Trying to raise an exotic species like cattle that require massive amounts of grass and water to survive in a desert environment could not happen without a huge federal government payout -- in the west, public lands grazing costs us taxpayers around a half a billion dollars a year. This is on top of the millions of dollars the government spent to eradicate wolves and grizzly bears to accommodate ranchers to begin with, and continues to spend through the Wildlife "Services" program to aerial gun coyotes, kill mountain lions, etc etc.

The fact is: wolves belong in nature. Aldo Leopold recognized this a hundred years ago. These natural systems need wolves to keep elk and deer populations healthy. Science is even showing that they keep streams and rivers healthier, too, by chasing elk out of the streams. Cows only cost us money, destroy rivers and fish habitat, and generally impoverish nature. The fact that we PAY ranchers to degrade our public lands just makes it all the more ridiculous. If they learned to live the land and with nature, and ran their operations on their own dimes, I'd be more sympathetic. But they don't, so I'm not.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.