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Camping with wolves is on tap for 2005

Get Out by Art Merrill

The great thing about being outdoorsmen is that some folks don’t know what to get us for Christmas, so they just give us money.

Sure, we also got some neat stuff – books, magazine subscriptions, a guided fly fishing trip at Lee’s Ferry, trout-shaped porcelain salt and pepper shakers – but the money is very cool because then we can get things we seem to always be putting off, things like new camping gear.

I want to spend more time fishing the White Mountains in 2005, so I used some of my Christmas money to buy a new tent and camp stove. I’ll use more of it to pay for the Prescott Flycasters June trip to Hurricane Lake.

We’ve reserved the lake for ourselves for a week, and the Apache Tribe fishing permit is good elsewhere on the rez when I get bored with Hurricane. It’s a good deal; if you’re interested visit the “Go fish” page at www.prescottflycasters.com.

When thinking about sleeping outdoors in the White Mountains, I always think about the estimated 51 to 56 Mexican gray wolves released out there.

The number is only estimated because the agencies that released the wolves kind of lost track of them, despite what they call “close” monitoring.

Agencies involved in the controversial wolf reintroduction include Arizona Game and Fish Department, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, White Mountain Apache Tribe, U.S. Forest Service, and USDA Wildlife Services.

No, there aren’t yet any documented cases of these wolves attacking people, but it appears they routinely attack dogs.

In November alone there are three such reported incidents.

In two of those, wolves attacked dogs at residences; one resident reported the wolf came onto his porch to get at his dog.

In the third incident wolves attacked the hounds of a bear hunter.

Again in two of those cases, the wolves fled when the men involved fired gunshots into the air. A bit more disturbing is the wolf in the porch incident that wasn’t as frightened by gunshots; it hung around the residence all night.

These are among the many reported negative interactions between the wolves and humans; there are some that go unreported.

The US Government reimbursed a couple of ranchers who lost cattle to marauding wolves, but “Range” magazine reported last year that some ranchers living in wolf country have adopted a policy of the three S’s: shoot, shovel and shut up.

Government agencies and conservation groups are offering combined rewards of $46,000 for information leading to a conviction in the shooting deaths of about a half dozen wolves in about as many years.

Officials recently acknowledged, if not actually admitted, failure in the release of the Aspen Wolf Pack near Hannagan Meadow in Arizona.

The five wolves continue to hang out near residences, obviously showing little fear of humans, and have been involved in wolf/dog encounters “despite intensive monitoring and hazing efforts by the wolf project’s Interagency Field Team,” according to information posted on the project website.

“Despite the high nuisance factor these wolves have caused around occupied residences… these wolves have not caused any significant problems,” said Terry Johnson, chief of the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Nongame Branch. “Because of this, we will make every effort to relocate them as soon as possible to another area with less possibility of interacting with humans, minimizing their stay in captivity.”

Hmm… I’m neither a wildlife biologist nor a lawyer, but I see a potential here for tragedy.

Wolves range over a lot of territory and, as a species, they increase their territory when pack members break off to find new land and new opportunities (part of the reason why biologists have lost track of their numbers). It’s unreasonable to expect that these relocated Aspen wolves will never again encounter human beings. The Aspen Pack animals already have little fear of people, and relocating them isn’t going to change that attitude.

I’m not opposed to the wolf reintroduction project (but then again, I’m not a working rancher in wolf country). On the contrary, I support the protection of wild areas and reestablishing the natural, healthy biodiversity of our environment.

That’s why I look askance at the proposal to relocate these not-afraid-of-you Aspen Pack wolves.

Perhaps these animals don’t pose as much danger as they appear to from these incidents. But if these relocated animals eventually attack a person the resultant negative publicity could seriously harm the entire project, and it could conceivably bring many to question the entire idea of reintroducing potentially dangerous species anywhere on public lands.

I said I’m not a lawyer, but I think anyone attacked by one of these relocated Aspen Pack animals would have a good case to bring against the bureaucrats who approved their re-release. If you were such a victim and survived, I would expect you to find the meanest, nastiest attorney, a guy who files his teeth to little points and eats the steaming hot livers of his opponents, to shred these government decision-makers in court.

So anyway, if you decide not to camp in the White Mountains with your pets and small children this year, I don’t blame you.

I’ll miss you, though the added solitude and undisturbed trout fishing is an adequate compensation for the lack of your presence.

If you take comfort in packing some heat while camping in wolf country, be advised that killing a Mexican gray wolf is a violation of the federal Endangered Species Act that can bring fines up to $25,000 and/or six (6) months in jail.


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