Originally published in The Santa Fe New Mexican: https://www.santafenewmexican.com/opinion/editorials/roaming-asha-moves-beyond-arbitrary-boundaries/article_c08a5930-8326-11ee-befc-433d7aa3aa05.html
The travels of Asha the wolf offer both danger and opportunity. Can we avoid the danger and seize the opportunity?
The danger is to Asha, a female Mexican wolf crossing human-created boundaries — namely, a freeway — to which she and other lobos are supposed to be confined but that make little sense in nature.
The opportunity is to tweak the Mexican wolf recovery program so the animals can follow their instincts — which means letting them roam more broadly than currently allowed.
Asha, more formally known as F2754, recently crossed Interstate 40 west of Albuquerque and ventured into the Jemez Mountains, the state Department of Game and Fish reported. Her name means hope in Sanskrit and was chosen by seventh grader Maesen Whiteside earlier this year through a contest held by the collaborative website mexicanwolves.org.
It’s not the first time Asha has broken boundaries. A wolf with her numbers was captured in January in Taos, 500 miles from where her journey began. After she was found, she ended up at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Sevilleta Mexican Wolf Management Facility outside Socorro before being released in Arizona in June.
Now, she’s back in New Mexico, north of the imaginary line wolves aren’t supposed to cross, whether in New Mexico or Arizona.
The I-40 boundary has its basis both in science and politics, although there is plenty of disagreement in both areas. In Arizona, state wildlife managers were convinced wolves roamed mostly south of the interstate boundary; that was the natural habitat range. Politically, powerful voices, including the late former Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, pushed back against any northern recovery areas.
Wolves remain unpopular to many in the West, with powerful hunting and ranching interests continuing to lobby against recovery efforts. We might have moved on from the days when ranchers and others sought to kill as many wolves as possible — which is why the species nearly went extinct — but it’s no secret wolves frighten many, though they are seen by few.
Consider this response to Asha’s roaming from Loren Patterson, president of the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association: “We do not know if this wolf is alone or whether she is traveling in a pack. We urge New Mexicans who are not accustomed to having the Mexican wolf in their backyard to exercise caution, especially for vulnerable children, pets and livestock in rural areas. Regrettably, this is another installment of what we can expect in the future.”
It’s hardly regrettable that a species humans nearly obliterated now can be seen again in the wild. They belong here.
Wolves also are protected, and representatives of both the state Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been emphatic that the animals are covered by the Endangered Species Act.
In other words, leave Asha be.
Groups working for broader wolf recovery have been lobbying in recent years to expand the designated recovery area, including into the Grand Canyon ecosystem and the southern Rockies into New Mexico. This would allow the population to grow and diversify, essential for long-term recovery of the species. That will be both complicated and contentious, whatever the outcome, although Asha apparently is anticipating the move as she travels through New Mexico, her whereabouts tracked through her radio collar.
For the moment, wildlife agencies are letting Asha be Asha. That’s the right call.
Like the wandering Marty the Moose, Asha has the need to roam. May she do so safely, with others of her species — perhaps her fated mate — joining her someday soon.