Wolf News


In the News: Sun Setting On Wolf Recovery?

By Tricia Cook

“Sunset is an angel weeping, holding out a bloody sword,” begins Bruce Cockburn’s lyrics for “Pacing the Cage.”

I can’t help but identify with these lyrics. Cockburn writes of growing older, the expectations of others, to the feeling of being without a clear path. When the song continues, “I never knew what you all wanted, so I gave you everything … all the spells that I could sing,” my thoughts turn to wolves.

In 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law. The next year, wolves in the Lower 48 were the first species to be declared endangered under this shiny new law. But time can be a cruel mistress.

In 2011, the Obama administration compromised the Endangered Species Act and wolf recovery in one fell swoop by approving a federal budget with a sneaky rider. Buried deep within the budget, the delisting of wolves was mandated for the Northern Rockies. This delisting marked the first time Congress alone stripped a species of protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Two years later, I fear the sun is setting on wolf recovery. I have read about and seen far too many images of bloody swords, swords figurative and actual, covered with the blood of more than a thousand wolves.

Wolves become easy targets for misdirected blame and aggression. Blame it on the fairy tales we read to our children. Blame it on the Three Little Pigs! Know that Little Red Riding Hood lied. I will not argue that today most small and multi-generational family ranches are struggling to survive. Adding wolves to the equation just makes it that much more difficult, or so we are told. However, it is convenient, actually romantic for some, to point a finger — or a gun — at an apex predator, making it their own personal scapegoat.

When I asked a close friend who maintains a small, fourth-generation family ranch in Jefferson County, Mont., what the biggest threat to ranching in rural America was, he said: “It isn’t predation, but favorable tax policies and agricultural subsidies benefiting large commercial livestock operations that are systematically wiping us out.” This former teacher wrote his master’s thesis about the decline of family farms in rural American communities.

The Miller family ranch, grazing 150 cows and 70 sheep (numbers vary from year to year), has never experienced a loss from wolf predation during these many generations of ranching. And this is, indeed, an area in Montana where locals are aware of wolves living nearby.

“We have definitely lost livestock to coyotes, domestic dogs, foxes and hunters,” he said.

The National Agricultural Statistic Service has reported that depredation by wolves accounts for a very small percentage of livestock lost. Recent statistics show 2 percent in the Northern Rockies and 0.23 percent nationwide. That’s less than one quarter of 1 percent of livestock lost to wolf depredation. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, using professional, field-verified reports, calculates these numbers even lower than National Agricultural Statistic Service, which uses unverified livestock industry reports.

While nonpredator causes — disease, injury, weather, poisoning and theft — account for about 95 percent of livestock loss, wolves continue to be blamed, to be trapped and bludgeoned and gassed, poisoned, shot full of bullets and arrows. We brought them back from the brink for this, after wolves were exterminated from the Lower 48 more than 50 years ago?

The federal Wildlife Services program spends hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to “lethally control” an estimated 100,000 native predators each year. This count includes wolves, and the number of dead wolves is adding up quickly.

The 1995 reintroduction of the gray wolf to Yellowstone National Park has helped restore riparian areas that had been severely damaged by overgrazing from unnaturally enhanced ungulate populations, keeping the herds on the move and their numbers in check. By preying on weaker herd members, wolves keep deer and elk healthier, reducing the transmission of diseases. Tree and willow stands have been able to re-establish and bird populations have returned. This re-vegetation has improved fish spawning areas, keeping the waters shaded and cool, protected from the hot sun.

Wolves generate economic benefits. Tourists who visit Yellowstone to view wolves add more than $35 million annually to the region’s economy, according to a University of Montana study.

Delisting the gray wolf means that Colorado and other states that contain some of the nation’s best wolf habitat — Utah, northern California, Oregon and Washington — may never hear the howl of wild wolves, never reap the ecological and economic benefits wolves bring.

The return of Mexican wolves, North America’s most endangered mammal, to their historic range in the Southwest will have the same, positive cascading effects on the region’s stressed and struggling ecosystems. A sub-species of the gray wolf, the Mexican wolf is proposed to remain protected, even should the gray wolf become delisted altogether. This may sound like good news for Mexican wolves, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal is deeply flawed, running counter to their recovery team’s own recommendations. The original goal of Mexican wolf recovery to ecologically appropriate and historic habitat is being abandoned, and strict, arbitrary, limiting boundaries are being proposed, beyond which wolves would be lethally removed.

I do not want to grow older in homogenized forests — in wilderness with its wild cut out. I have no children, but I want the children of others to become stirred alive by the song of wolf and coyote, to hike along trails that seem to go on forever, resplendent with birdsong, bear scat and the tracks of big cats and ungulates, skirted by clear, cool rivers and snowy peaks. I want them to know there are wild places without roads and trails, wild places without humans. I find this comforting, and I hope they will, too. Wolves and wilderness are on the brink of forever. Don’t let them vanish, this becoming our sad and shameful legacy.

Some hope from Cockburn’s “Pacing the Cage”: “Sometimes the best map will not guide you, you can’t see what’s ’round the bend. Sometimes the road leads through dark places; sometimes the darkness is your friend.”

For more information about Mexican wolves, visit www.mexicanwolves.org.

This article appeared in The Durango Herald.


You can help ensure the future of the lobo by attending the public hearing in Hon-Dah/Pinetop, by submitting comments to the Fish and Wildlife Service, and by writing a letter to the editor of The Durango Herald.

One letter from you can reach thousands of people and will also likely be read by decision-makers.  Tips and talking points are below, but please write in your own words, from your own experience. Don’t try to include all the talking points in your letter.

Talking points

  • While giving Mexican wolves their own Endangered Species Act listing is long overdue, delisting gray wolves throughout the U.S. is counter to protecting Mexican wolves. The  proposed rule will leave gray wolves unprotected in places that scientists have said are needed for Mexican wolf recovery, making it more difficult to protect Mexican gray wolves even if they are allowed to expand into new areas.
  • The USFWS should move forward with allowing new wolves to be released throughout the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. The Mexican gray wolf is the most endangered mammal in the U.S. with only about 75 in the wild.  Additional wolves must be released into the wild now to increase the genetic health of the species. Numerous wolves are in captive breeding facilities around the country, prepared for, and awaiting, release.
  • Wolves once lived throughout the west and played a critical role in keeping the balance of nature in place. We need to restore this important animal that has been missing for too long.
  • Wolves need freedom from boundaries. Given room to roam, the wolves will establish themselves in suitable areas with adequate game. The USFWS proposal does not allow wolves to establish new packs and populations in additional areas that are essential to their recovery.
  • Additional populations of Mexican wolves are necessary to their recovery and genetic health, as is the ability for wolves to move between populations.
  • Capturing and moving wolves is always a risky business that can result in death or trauma to the wolf.
  • The USFWS should designate Mexican gray wolves as essential. By labeling all of the wild wolves as “nonessential” the USFWS ignores science and the reality of 15 years of experience with reintroducing wolves.The 75 wolves in the wild have up to four generations of experience in establishing packs and raising pups and are over 22% of all of the Mexican wolves in the world.
  • The USFWS needs to quit stalling and complete a comprehensive recovery plan at the same time as or before changing the current rule.
  • The likelihood of a person being hurt by a wolf is almost non-existent. In rural areas, people are far more likely to be harmed by things accepted as part of daily life, such as domestic dogs, livestock, or off-road vehicles. Mexican wolves are small, weighing 50-85 pounds, and tend to avoid people.

Make sure you:

  • Thank the paper for publishing this article.
  • Include something about who you are and why you care: E.g. “I am mother, outdoors person, teacher, business owner, scientific, religious, etc.)
  • Provide your name, phone number and address. The paper won’t publish these, but they want to know you are who you say you are.
  • Submit your letter to the Editor of The Durango Herald here.

Thank you for speaking out to save Mexican wolves!


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Photo credit:  Rebecca Bose, Wolf Conservation Center

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