The Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Project
Understanding Diverse Viewpoints

staring wolf


The Ranchers

cattle Ever since Americans moved to the West and began raising cattle, there has been a negative attitude against the Mexican wolf amongst Americans. Before much information had been obtained about wolves in general, many had already formulated opinions about them. Some of these views stem as far back as the middle ages, where animals that did not serve mankind, like the wolf, were seen as "stenchy beasts" that had an inherent right to be killed. In general, people have viewed wolves for centuries as harmful, evil creatures who take pleasure out of killing calves, cows and even humans, even though to this day there has been no record of a person killed by a wolf (Lopez). Lack of information mixed with fear and a human knack for exaggeration prompted these preconceptions, and , in the early 1900's , were successful in convincing the Federal Government to fund the complete extermination of the Mexican wolf in the Southwest. In 1914-5, $125,000 was placed within the program's budget and 300 hunters were hired for its completion (Brown, 52).

Currently, more than thirty years since the end of the wolf eradication program, there continues to exist a voiced opposition from the ranchers against wolves. Even before the FEIS on the Mexican wolf project was issued, the Arizona Department of Game and Fish conducted a preprogram survey to assess the opinions of the different stakeholders. Out of all the groups asked to participate, ranchers were the only ones who refused to participate in the survey (Johnson). One of the reasons why ranchers still oppose the wolf is that they believe wolves will have a considerable negative impact on their business. During the Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Program Three-Year Review Workshop (3YRW), Jason Dobrinski,
representing the Grant County Area Cattle Growers Association, criticized USFWS's attempt to expand the recovery area into New Mexico. Dobrinski stated that the Cattle Grower's Association did not approve of the expansion for several reasons. In general, the presence of wolves near private lands would create additional difficulties for the ranchers. First of all, wolf predation on cattle would decrease the ranchers ' profits. This fact was supported by two ranchers from Montana, who spoke at the plenary discussion to this workshop, who said that the establishment of wolves in Yellowstone National park had caused their cattle loss to predators to increase from 3-4% to 5-10% annually. Another difficulty mentioned by Dobrinsky was that the possibility of wolves denning on private land would not only increase federal government interference with the ranchers, but would also demand ranchers to be more cautious on their own property (105-6, 128).

    The Arizona Cattle Growers Association also opposes the reintroduction of the Mexican wolf, and generally does not see the project succeeding in the future. They feel that the wolves' natural prey base is decreasing, and that the captive bred wolves that are being released are not suitable for the wild ("Wolf Position").

    Despite the majority anti-wolf attitude within the rancher community, there does exists some support for wolves amongst the ranchers. Jim Winder of Deming, N.M. is one such supporter.  A member of the executive committee of a local Sierra Club, he had about 200 cows near the White Sands Area in 1996, and in that last decade had only experienced two wolf depredations on his cattle. He continues to be a full supporter of the reintroduction program, and believes that ranchers who learn to harmonize with wolves will be able to create an even more favorable market for beef than those ranchers who did choose not to deal with such predators (Davis).

ervin's The idea of ranchers harmonizing with predators is derived from the principles of Holistic Management. The idea behind Holistic Management was founded by Allan Savoy in 1983. Holistic management is a sustainable way of making decisions. In establishing goals and ways to meet these goals, economic, environmental and social values are taken into account. With regards to ranching, decision making takes into account the natural relationship between predators (in this case, wolves) and prey (livestock). Savoy believes that one of the main reasons why two thirds of the earth is currently experiencing land degradation is because long ago humans "severed the vital relationship between herding animals and their pack hunting predators" ("Four Key").

In an effort to decrease land degradation and reestablish the "severed" relationship, some ranchers, like Will and Jan Holder of Ervin’s Natural Beef in Safford, Arizona, for example, have adopted Holistic Range Management. For Will and Jan Holder, Holistic Range Management is also a way to make up for the mistakes done by past generations, for Will Holder's father participated in the killing of the last wolves in Arizona. In 1998, in regards to the wolf reintroduction program, Will Holder said, "Our family has started thinking about how we affect the environment since the wolves were removed" (qtd. in Moody, 6). In adopting of Holistic Range Management, the Holders no longer interfere when predators attack their cattle. The cattle’s only protectors are the Holder’s herding dogs. The dogs also serve to decrease the cattle’s impact on the land by rotating them from pasture to pasture. The Holders generally do suffer about a 10% loss due to predators, but their cattle tend to be healthier, and produce more muscular beef than those managed by conventional means. In addition, a growing market exists for meat that has been grown with an environmental consciousness. Thus, while the Holders suffer some loses, this market allows them to sell their beef at higher prices than regular, non-Holistically managed, beef (Bass, 63-75).
Ranchers have also instigated other means of creating a more harmonious relationship between themselves and wolves. For example, based on an idea founded by a rancher in Montana, ranchers from Arizona and New Mexico have helped the Southwest Division of the Defenders of Wildlife in setting up a device that is geared to restrict wolves from rangeland, and to warn ranchers of a wolf in their vicinity. The radio-activated guard (RAG) is a device composed of a radio-signaling component along with strobe lights, sirens, and speakers. When an animal gets within radio signaling distance, the device goes off: sirens, strobe lights and loud, disturbing noises are usually enough to scare the animal away and to keep it away permanently. However, in the case that these scare tactics do not work, the device is also geared to notify the rancher, who is beeped. The rancher can then appear at the scene and attempt to lure away the animal. Defenders have teamed up with ranchers and have set up several of these devices a half-mile from various private pastures. In preventing wolves from entering into areas where livestock are present, Defenders are preventing confrontations between ranchers and wolves, and are appeasing the opposing from this stakeholder (Miller).

The Feds

FWS logo
It is somewhat ironic that the Federal government, which was so implemental in removing the Mexican wolf from its home, is now the main authority responsible for its reintroduction. Although the goals of the reintroduction program are clearly outlined in the FEIS (see Management Plan ), it is generally difficult to discern the general viewpoint of the USFWS toward the program. One reason for this has been the changing leadership, and accompanying changing viewpoints. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit and Mexican Wolf Recovery Leader Dave Parsons oversaw the initial steps of the reintroduction program, while Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Mexican Wolf Recovery Leader Brian Kelly have led the continuation of the program into its present state.

Under NEPA, the USFWS is mandated to take into account the needs and opinions of the various stakeholders in conducting any large scale project, such as this Mexican wolf reintroduction program. Because it is forced to accompany the needs to various groups, the USFWS service constantly faces some kind of opposition. With regards to endangered species projects, if they ignore any aspect of the Endangered Species Act, it gets sued by the environmentalists; if their project inflicts on a rancher's grazing rights, USFWS gets sued by the ranchers. This opposition has been revealed many times within the history of the reintroduction program. As early as 1998, the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association and the New Mexico Farm Bureau filed a lawsuit to cancel the program because they opposed the restrictions on grazing areas entailed within the project (Bass). Lastly, NEPA mandates USFWS to conduct three and five year reviews, which are workshops that emphasize public participation and constructive criticism (Miller). Thus, as a result of these obligations to the public, the USFWS often appears to be more concerned with meeting the needs of the public than it is meeting the goals of its projects.

However, the truth of the matter, as expressed by a wolf biologist for the reintroduction program, who requested to be anonymous, USFWS does view the goals of the reintroduction project as their first priority. In fact, the biologist said, sometimes USFWS is so concerned with meeting the needs of the wolves, that they unintentionally ignore the concerns of the local communities. In the last couple of months, this biologist has been in the field weeks at a time, capturing animals, releasing others, and monitoring those already released. Because of the overwhelming load of wolf related work, this biologist has had very little time to update and inform the public on recent events.

    In an attempt to further meet the needs of the wolves, and to specifically prevent their death, USFWS enforces laws mandated under the Endangered Species Act, which prohibit the killing or injuring of a wolf under any circumstance, except under the circumstance that a wolf threatens a human life. Anyone caught violating these laws can be sentenced up to one year in prison and be fined up to $100,000 ("Key Information").

An additional critique of USFWS, other than that they are concerned more with needing the needs of the public than meeting the outlined goals, was repeatedly voiced during the 3YRW (see Ranchers above) conducted by the USFWS in April, 2001. Many working groups within the workshop complained that there is not enough information being circulated regarding the specifics of the reintroduction program and regarding the views of the various stakeholders. They cited this shortcoming as the reason for the misunderstanding amongst the stakeholders. Due to this lack of information, the stakeholders were either unable make decisions or have uninformed mindsets that could possibly contribute to harming the reintroduction effort. For example, many people still feel that wolves contribute to an overall negative impact on an ecosystem, even though studies of other areas where wolves have been reintroduced have shown that wolves generally make elk and deer stronger. In addition to positively impacting the ecosystem, wolves improve the hunting industry, for stronger and faster elk and deer populations mean a more challenging sport (Miller).

However, USFWS, in regards to the issue of concern raised by the public, who view this lack of information or information “control,” as some might phrase it, actually sometimes limits the amount of information revealed to prevent conflict. Also, the fact that there is not enough specific updated information about the program is untrue, for the location of the wolves is continuously available and updated on the USFWS website. However, the specific location of wolf sightings is not provided to prevent someone from using this information to track down a particular animal. It is highly possible that even the information that is provided by USFWS has been helpful in the killing of seven wolves, whose cases have yet to be solved. An award of $10,000 is being offered by USFWS, in addition to the $5,000 being offered by the Center for Biological Diversity, for the identification and apprehension of those responsible for the killings ("News Release"). On the other hand, the description of the specific location of a wolf would only describe the wolf’s position temporarily, for wolves generally have large territories, and can travel, on average, thirty-five to seventy-five miles per day (Brown, 141).

    Finally, another concern that has been raised against USFWS is that it is virtually impossible to visit the reintroduction site. Brian Kelly has prohibited students from visiting the area. The reason for this apparent secrecy has been that USFWS has yet to formulate an official protocol regarding visitors. In order to prevent insurance problems, USFWS prefers to keep visitors at a distance for the time being (Anonymous).

The Environmentalists

The array of environmental groups supporting the reintroduction of the Mexican Wolf is astounding. There are more than a dozen of these organizations, including the International Wolf Center, the Timber Wolf Information Network, Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and a dozen more. The latter two have been implemental in the management decisions made the USFWS with regards to the Mexican wolf. Both of these groups have also worked to educate the public about the issues regarding the reintroduction program, in addition to working with opposing parties such as ranchers and the White Mountain and San Carlos Apache tribes.

defenders Defenders of Wildlife has been dedicated to the reintroduction of wolves into the continental United States since wolves were first listed under the Endangered Species Act. They cite three reasons for their devotion to the restoration of this animal. They believe that the wolf should be restored: "for the wolf itself, for the environment and for people." Further, they say that "First, the very survival of wolf populations depends on having a sufficient number of wolf populations that are large enough to provide for the continuing viability of the species. Second, wolf restoration is necessary to return a measure of ecological integrity, ... restoring lost biological balance. Third, continuing wolf restoration makes the economic, recreational, spiritual and aesthetic benefits of wild wolf populations accessible to as many Americans as possible" (Ferris et al).
    Following the principles outlined above, Defenders of Wildlife, have been actively involved in not only the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf to the Southwest, but have helped to restore the gray wolf to Yellowstone National Park and to central Idaho, and the red wolf to the Southeast. In addition, as mentioned in ranchers, Defenders has worked closely with ranchers in an attempt to appease their opposition (Schlickeisen). In addition to setting up radio activated guards within the ranchers' grazing lands (see Ranchers ), Defenders has also created a fund to compensate for possible livestock loss due to wolf predation. In 1987, Defenders created the Bailey Wildlife Foundation Wolf Compensation Fund specifically to provide economic incentives for the acceptance of the wolf in the Rockies. In 1995, the fund was expanded to include possible costs for the Mexican wolf reintroduction. Today, this $200,000 fund is fully maintained by private donors, supporters of wolf restoration programs ("Bailey"). In addition, Defenders has set aside $500,000 to a ProActive Carnivore Fund, which provides incentives for ranchers to devise means of managing wolves, by financing the ideas that they decide to put into action (Miller).
    With regards specifically to the Mexican wolf reintroduction effort, Defenders has aided in acquiring funds for the Final Environmental Impact Statement, in addition to aiding captive breeding programs. Defenders continuously works with federal and state governments, and other stakeholders such as ranchers, Apache tribes, local residents and the public in general in attempt to create an educational and cooperative forum. In addition, Defenders has been gaining support Defenders from Mexico, regarding the reintroduction of the wolf into that country. With the support of the Southwest and Mexico, Defenders is hoping for the success and continual improvement of the program ("Restoring").

biological diversity The Center for Biological Diversity has also played a very influential role in the Mexican Wolf reintroduction project. Since its founding in 1984, the Center has helped list 280 species on the endangered species list and has helped protect over 38 million acres of important wildlife habitat ("Race Against"). In regards to the Mexican wolf reintroduction project, the center takes credit for the program's inception. In 1989, they won a lawsuit against the Department of the Interior and the Department of Defense that mandated USFWS and Department of Defense to research the Southwest as a possible Mexican wolf reintroduction site. As a result of this lawsuit, the Center argues, the program went into full swing ("Mexican Gray Wolf").

    The Center for Biological Diversity has also been influential in dramatically reducing grazing within the reintroduction area. In an effort to capture wolf killers, the Center has added an additional $5,000 to the reward being offered by USFWS (see Feds ). They have been working hard on educating the public, through their high school "Name a Wolfpup contest," and their periodic public slideshows run by their wolf expert, Michael Robinson. The Center has also influenced USFWS to allow wolves into the Gila National Forest. Finally, they have adapted a "Wolf Safe Haven Plan" that calls for wildlife corridors amongst the reintroduction sites, termination of grazing within the reintroduction sites, expanding the primary reintroduction area for more possible reintroduction sites, the official designation of the Blue Range Wolf Reintroduction Area (the Blue Primitive Area) as "wilderness," and for the federal government to create a public educational forum to inform and  constantly update citizens about pertinent issues ("Mexican Gray Wolf").

Final Statement

Author: Yekaterina Gluzberg
Updated: 14 May 2002