By Rene Romo / Journal South
LUNA - One branch of the federal government, the Agriculture Department's
Wildlife Services, set traps in the northern edge of the Gila National
Forest last week in a frustrating, monthlong effort to capture the elusive
alpha female of the Fox Mountain wolf pack, blamed for a string of recent
Meanwhile, officials in another agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
fretted over the difficult decision to impound the wolf, one of an official
count of 58 in New Mexico and Arizona.
The tug of war over what to do with the Fox Mountain wolf has illustrated
again the deep divide that has plagued the recovery of the endangered
Mexican gray wolf.
On one hand, conservationists want a native predator that was nearly hunted
to extinction restored to the landscape under the Endangered Species Act; on
the other, critics, dominated by the livestock industry, argue the lobos are
a menace that take a bite out of their pocketbooks by killing cows and other
Now, the Fish and Wildlife Service appears poised to endorse a new approach,
dubbed coexistence, aimed at creating more tolerance for lobos in the
Details won't be released until next month at the earliest. However,
according to a broad outline provided by people familiar with the plan, it
would do this: Rather than compensate ranchers for confirmed wolf kills of
livestock, the program would pay ranchers and those who own property in wolf
country, based on a formula that would take into account a number of
factors, such as the proximity of a wolf pack, the number of livestock
exposed to the threat of wolves, a ranchers' willingness to take steps to
reduce wolf-livestock conflicts and the growth of the wild wolf population.
The idea of shifting to a new way of compensating ranchers in wolf country
is, in part, a recognition that ranchers sustain losses for which they are
not compensated, for instance, cattle that disappear or stressed cattle,
said Craig Miller, Southwestern representative of Defenders of Wildlife and
a member of the Mexican Wolf Interdiction Fund Stakeholders Council. The
Council makes recommendations on how much to pay ranchers for livestock
killed by wolves, with payments from a privately managed fund financed by
Defenders and the federal government.
A baseline payment, of a still undetermined amount, would recognize that
"there are costs of living in the presence of wolves," Miller said. "The
program is trying to get away from postmortem compensation. That begins with
dead livestock and ends with dead wolves."
As Miller envisions it, Arizona-based Defenders of Wildlife would continue,
as it does now, to provide funds to ranchers for measures aimed at avoiding
wolf-livestock conflicts, such as hiring range riders to guard herds, moving
cattle to pastures away from wolf dens, or the purchase of hay. According to
Miller, ranchers could be paid to take steps to reduce conflicts with
wolves, and then be rewarded when those measures result in the growth of the
"It's trying to get cooperation on both sides," said Sherry Barrett, wolf
recovery program coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service. "There's a
lot of emotion around wolves, both pro and con. . So we are trying to find
something that reduces some of this conflict."
A key part of the plan - securing a big enough pot of money to pay ranchers
an amount that would allay concerns about cattle losses - has yet to be
accomplished. Money in the existing Interdiction Fund managed by a
Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group can only be used to pay ranchers for
To succeed, the plan would have to be embraced by the livestock industry,
and several ranchers in Arizona and New Mexico said this week that they knew
little or nothing about it. Laura Schneberger, president of the Gila
Livestock Growers Association, said she doubted such a program would work
for small ranchers who are less able to endure wolf depredations.
In the case of the Fox Mountain packs' cattle depredations, ranchers called
for wolf removals, while hundreds of wolf supporters pushed back against the
initial kill order issued Aug. 8. Many wolf advocates celebrated when the
kill order was rescinded two days later, after permanent housing for the
wolf was secured in an Arizona sanctuary, while others maintained that the
wolf should be allowed to remain free.
Before a few wolves were reintroduced to the wild in 1998, federal officials
projected there would be about 100 wolves in the forests of southwestern New
Mexico and southeastern Arizona by the end of 2006. As of January, the
official population count was 58.
Illegal poaching and the removal of wolves in earlier years for cattle
depredations have been major factors in keeping down the number of
The desire to respond to rancher concerns was, in no small measure, what
motivated Fish and Wildlife to exercise the discretion it has to manage, or
remove, a "problem" wolf that repeatedly preys on livestock, Barrett
Whether a new approach to compensating ranchers for living with wolves is
enough to bridge old divides is far from certain. Just in the past week, an
online petition was launched that calls for blocking new releases of wolves
and, eventually, the removal of wolves from the Southwest.
"I suspect we'll get backlash from all sides," Barrett said. "I've never
seen a plan that didn't get backlash, but what we are doing is trying to
find a middle ground."
Meanwhile, one freedom-loving lobo continues trying to steer clear of traps.
Please write a letter to the editor, thanking the paper for this article and expressing your support for Mexican gray wolves. The letters to the editor page is one of the most widely read, influential parts of the newspaper. One letter from you can reach thousands of people and will also likely be read by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Tips for writing your letter are below, but please write in your own words, from your own experience.
Submit letters to the editor of Albuquerque Journal here.
Letter Writing Tips & Talking Points
Below are a few suggestions for ensuring your message gets through clearly-your letter will be most effective if you focus on a few key points, so don’t try to use all of these. If you need additional help or want someone to review your letter before you send it, email it to email@example.com.
Start by thanking paper for publishing this article. This makes your letter immediately relevant and increases its chances of being published.
Inform readers that wolves are social animals who rely on family members in hunting and pup rearing. Trapping or darting this wolf, and removing her forever, would disrupt the pack.
Remind them that, at last count, just 58 wolves, including six breeding pairs, survived in the wild. This is no time to bring back the policy of scapegoating wolves who occasionally prey on livestock.
Explain that the USFWS is using the Fox Mountain alpha wolves’ genetics as an excuse for removing the female, and point out that the reason these pups’ parents are so closely related may be due to the fact that not a single new wolf has been released from the captive-breeding pool since November 2008.
Assert that the way to improve the wild populations’ genetics is to release many new wolves into the wild, so that when the Fox Mountain pups, when they grow up, will be able to find unrelated mates. The wild population is extremely small and vulnerable to threats such as disease, inbreeding, or natural events. The USFWS should end the freeze on new releases of captive wolves into the wild.
Let people know that by removing this wolf, the USFWS is depriving four pups born this summer of their mother, harming this family of wolves, and breaking apart one of only a few breeding pairs in the wild.
Convey how important new releases of wolves into the wild are to increase the population’s numbers and genetic health, especially now.
Tell readers why you support wolves and stress that the majority of New Mexico and Arizona voters support the Mexican wolf reintroduction. Polling showed 69% support in New Mexico and 77% support in Arizona.
Talk about your personal connection to wolves and why the issue is important to you. If you’re a grandmother wanting your grandchildren to have the opportunity to hear wolves in the wild, or a hunter who recognizes that wolves make game herds healthier, or a businessperson who knows that wolves have brought millions in ecotourism dollars to Yellowstone, say so.
Describe the ecological benefits of wolves to entire ecosystems and all wildlife. Wildlife biologists believe that Mexican wolves will improve the overall health of the Southwest and its rivers and streams – just as the return of gray wolves to Yellowstone has helped restore balance to its lands and waters.
Keep your letter brief, between 150-300 words.
Provide your name, address, occupation, and phone number; your full address, occupation, and phone number will not be published, but they are required in order to have your letter published.
As long as the Fox Mountain alpha female evades capture, there is hope that she will remain free. CLICK HERE to make calls urging decision-makers to keep the Fox Mountain alpha female in the wild with her family and to release more wolves.
CLICK HERE to join our email list to stay informed and get more involved with efforts to recover Mexican wolves from the brink of extinction.
Photo credit: James Wood