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Wolf Crossings

A Rural Viewpoint On Wolf Reintroduction And Protection

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Updated 10-06



Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?
People in wolf country say this top predator is changing their lives
By: Terence Corrigan, The Independent 08/25/2006

Photo Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

APACHE COUNTY - The reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf in five counties of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico has reignited the Sagebrush Rebellion; the battle between urban/ environmentalist interests and those who make their living, at least in large part, on public lands.

      Cattlemen see their industry as under threat from this largest of canids. They see their way of life as endangered. They fear that their livelihood will go the way of the loggers of Catron County, New Mexico who say they lost their livelihood under the talons of the spotted owl.
      "I don't think they (environmentalists) like people; they don't want them anywhere," said Arizona Senator Jake Flake to a group made up of mostly ranchers in Glenwood, New Mexico last weekend.
      The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it's working to resolve the economic conflicts created by the wolves, although ranchers still think the wolves have more rights to survival than the humans who live in wolf country.
      Catron County supervisors declared a state of emergency this year in connection with the wolf program and in April employed an investigator to probe livestock deaths and human/wolf encounters.

The fear factor
      In addition to the economic damage wolves cause by killing livestock, some people who have had encounters with wolves are suffering symptoms that may be signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a disorder usually associated with soldiers in combat but may be triggered by any traumatic event. If not suffering from PTSD, many are at least affected by the negative consequences of continued loss of sleep.
      Children and adults are having nightmares, losing sleep and "children are afraid to go out of their homes to play in their yards, children afraid to walk from their homes to the (school) bus stop..." wrote Catron County wolf investigator Jess Carey.
      Carey calls these impacts on people "collateral damage" perpetrated by the federal government.
      "The fact is clear, the USFWS does not care if our children and rural families are suffering psychological trauma due to their wolves," Carey wrote in a statement to The Independent.

Four legged terrorists?
      The release of a wolf pack along the Blue River, south of Alpine, in July 2005 "changed life here on the Blue," according to ranch owner Barbara Marks. Marks and her husband, Bill, are the owners of the WY Bar Ranch.
      When the wolves were released on the Blue, Barbara said, they started "harassing everybody."
      The Marks attribute attacks on five cows and injury to her dog last year to wolves.
      When wolves are in the area, Marks said, "You hear the dogs bark and you wake up in a cold sweat. You check everything. We started hearing gunshots at 2 a.m, (people trying to drive off the wolves). We started getting late night phone calls: 'The wolves are headed your way.'"
      Marks has, since its inception, followed the wolf program closely. She's heard accounts of wolf attacks. When interviewed last week, she'd just heard of an attack on dogs in New Mexico. A family whose livelihood is guiding hunters lost their top hound to wolves. The hound was valued at over $5,000. The attack also resulted in injuries to another of their hunting dogs.
      According to a friend of Mark's, this was not "the first time these children have been traumatized by wolves. Two years ago, the family walked home in the dark after rolling a pickup on an icy road, a wolf pack followed them home. Probably homed in on the mom the two kids and their injuries."
      "It's just awful," Marks said. The New Mexico attack, Marks said, "brought it all back. I had to fight back tears. I know what those people have gone through."
      Following a wolf attack on a dog on the back porch of one of Mark's neighbors, in July 2005, wildlife officials trapped and removed three pups, she said.
      The Joy family, who lives a mile from the Marks, have had their fill of the wolves. One incident in particular, a wolf attacking one of the family dogs on the back porch, has crystallized the issue for the Joys. Cassie Joy, said the attack occurred at about 8 p.m. She was upstairs in the family home when her daughter, Britteny, heard a commotion outside the back door. When she opened the door she saw the wolf on top of one of their dogs. The attack was broken up by the family's larger dog that knocked the wolf off the smaller dog.
      The Joy's have physical evidence of the attack, a tooth from the wolf that attacked, pulled from their dog's head.
      The Joys are used to living with the other large predators, mountain lions and bears, but Cassie cites a profound difference in these large predators from wolves - unlike wolves, she said, bears and mountain lions are "not coming right in here on our doorsteps."
      According to Cassie, the teacher at the Blue School, who has taught at the school nearly 20 years, no longer takes her students on hikes. Casssie thinks the presence of wolves "is a part of it."
      Even though the wolf incidents on the Blue have declined in the last year, Marks says the impact lingers. "A day does not go by that I don't think about it," she said. "It's a constant thing." Every time she hears dogs barking at night, she says, "My heart jumps in my throat."
      Catron County Manager Bill Aymar thinks that it's "inevitable" that there will be "a child/wolf interaction."
      "If a child is killed, the wolf program, one way or the other, will come to an end," Aymar said.
      Currently, because wolves are listed as an endangered species, killing one can result in huge fines and even prison.
      The solution for some of the residents in Wolf country is "SSS," according to one rancher. "Shoot, Shovel and Shut up."
      Lif Strand, who lives near Reserve, New Mexico, has talked to many people who've become frightened of wolves. Strand is working as a research associate under a contract with the Southwest Center for Resource Analysis with Western New Mexico University.
      Strand's heard from a mother whose son, since his dog was killed by wolves, has had nightmares and started to develop behavior problems in school. Strand knows of a family that has installed bars on their home and the mom that will not allow her children to play in the yard. She's heard testimony from people who are not sleeping at night.

Terence Corrigan - The Independent
Arizona state senator Jake Flake addresses a gathering in Glenwood, New Mexico, where he discusses the battle for private property rights. Flake told the assembly that urban environmentalists are trying to run rural people off their land. "These people are serious," he said. "They are trying to take our land."

The wolf program was designed taking into account only the "animal aspect," Strand said. "They don't look at the impact on human society."
      Strand also faults Fish and Wildlife for designing a program that's "cruel" to the wolves themselves.
      "Wolves are as much victims as people," she said.
      Strand claims that the wolves being released are not truly wild. It is a common belief by opponents of the wolf program that the wolves being released, all raised in captivity, are used to humans - habituated.
      "Awareness is growing that these are not normal wild wolves," Strand said. "These wolves are raised in captivity. They are habituated to humans."
      Because they are fed by humans as they are raised, they associate humans with food," said Blue rancher Marks.
      When wolves must be removed from an area they are trapped using leg-hold traps, often resulting in broken leg bones for the wolves, according to both Marks and Strand. Marks said that one female wolf was released on the Blue after she lost a leg. Marks saw the wolf chewing a cowhide to survive. "What the hell were they thinking," she said. "We really felt sorry for her."

An official response
      A mandated five-year review of the wolf project was completed in December 2005. As part of the review, public comment was solicited and in many cases allegations and questions were answered.
      One commenter addressed the fear issue. "The report does not address the enormous amount of fear, terror and stress wolves engender," the anonymous commenter wrote.
      The response, from the Adaptive Management Oversight Committee, was: "AMOC does not have the specialized expertise necessary to assess psychological social impacts ..." best evidence indicates the fear is "not warranted."
      The AMOC reply also stated that "fear is a very personal thing. Some people will fear wolves no matter what the 'facts' are. Some will not fear wolves no matter what the 'facts' are."
      In its list of recommendations for improving the continuing wolf reintroduction program, the AMOC makes no mention of altering the program to help people deal with fear.
      "With the exception of social impacts on two groups - nearby tribes and a subset of ranchers ... the social impacts ... have been minimal," the report concludes.
      (To view the complete text of the five-year review go online to http://www.azgfd.gov/w_c/es/wolf_reintroduction.shtml.)
      Wildlife managers often cite the lack of any documented human deaths in the last 100 years from wolf attacks. They say the possibility of a wolf attacking and killing a human is remote. As the five-year review was being concluded in late 2005, an incident in Canada may have added a new statistic.
      On Nov. 8, 2005, Kenton Joel Carnegie, who was working with an energy exploration crew in northern Saskatchewan was found dead. It appeared that four wolves "might" have killed him. If it is determined that the cause of death was wolves, Carnegie would be the first documented human wolf kill in North America in the last 100 years. Originally the coroner was to issue a report on Carnegie's death in January but that report still has not been released.
      Although fatalities are rare, wolves have attacked and harassed humans, according to a report by Mark E. McNay with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. McNay researched and compiled case histories of 80 incidents of wolf-human encounters in Alaska and Canada "in which wolves showed little fear of people."
      (To view the complete report go online to http://wildlife.alaska.gov/pubs/techpubs/research_pdfs/techb13_full.pdf#search=% 22mark%20e%20mcnay%20alaska%20a%20case%20history%20of%20wolf-human%20encounters%22)
      Two cases involved attacks on children.
      * August 18, 1996, Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada. A family of five, including three children, was sleeping outside without a tent. At about 2 a.m. a wolf bit into the face of the sleeping 12-year-old and dragged him about 2 m (just over six feet) before being driven away by the boy's father. The boy had a broken nose and 6 serious lacerations in his lower face..."
      Park officials speculated that the attack was not an act of predation but the wolf's "obsession with chewing and tearing human clothing and camping gear." Obsession with human clothing and gear, McNay concluded is common among habituated wolves.
      * April 26, 2000, Icy Bay, Alaska. "In a remote logging camp 2 boys, ages 6 and 9, were playing behind the camp school ... A wolf emerged from the trees ... in a crouched position, showing its teeth." When the wolf approached the boys they ran toward their homes. "The younger boy was wearing oversized boots and was only able to stumble forward in a half run, eventually falling to the ground. Once the boy fell the wolf attacked." The boy suffered 19 lacerations and puncture wounds. "When rescuers arrived seconds later throwing rocks and shouting, the wolf picked the boy up and attempted to carry then drag him into the trees. Eventually the wolf was separated from the boy when the wolf dropped the boy to regrip and a dog (male Labrador retriever) intervened between the wolf and the boy."

Ranchers versus wolves
      Although the Mexican wolves are being released in five counties (Apache and Greenlee in Arizona and Sierra, Grant and Catron counties in New Mexico) one county is inflamed about it more than the others. Catron County, 7,000 sqaure miles with only 3,500 people, is by far the most heavily dependent on ranching. In the five-year review it's estimated that 20 percent of the population is employed in ranching. None of the other counties have even 10 percent of the workforce employed in ranching.
      Ranchers see the wolf program as an assault on their way of life. The wolf reintroduction program is "soul less," said Catron county manager Aymar. "It doesn't take into account that it's destroying a lifestyle."
      "Catron County (with its small population of rural people and little political clout) is a pretty easy target," Aymar said.
      Aymar said that the pictures of the wolf program that reach the public do not accurately portray what is really going on. The photos the public sees are of "a wolf puppy, its coat blow-dried and carefully groomed with a movie star holding it. They don't see the cattle ripped to shreds."

Photo submitted
This male dog owned by a family in New Mexico, was found in shock and dying, the result of a wolf attack. This dog made a living for this family as a lead hunting hound. Defenders of Wildlife will not reimburse the loss of a hunting hound. A female hound suffered puncture wounds on her foot.

"Our world is being attacked by outsiders in a very sophisticated but insensitive and war-like manner by these transient outsiders, from their transient homes, worlds and careers," said one commenter in the five-year review.
      "The main objective of this project is to put ranchers out of business," said another.
      Catron County Attorney Ron Shortes, in April of this year, told the New Mexico State Game Commission that wolves were responsible for $500,000 in livestock losses in two years, with several ranches going out of business this year.
      "USFWS John Oakleaf states in his research; for every confirmed wolf killed cow or calf, there are seven more that are not (reported or found)," wrote Catron County wolf investigator Carey.
      From April 20 through August 17, Carey has investigated 28 "Animal/Death/Injury" incidents in Catron County. All the incidents, except one, involved cattle. Ten incidents he lists as "confirmed" wolf attacks, four possible wolf attacks, one "probable" and four "possible."
      The ranching community and Catron County officials feel "backed into a corner," said county manager Aymar. "We are spending our limited resources fighting this, but we have to continue. We can't just roll over and play dead."
      Resarcher Strand said the damage wolves are doing to ranchers has the same effect as someone walking through a grocery store poking holes in every third gallon of milk.
      At least one rancher is selling out in September, and others will likely follow, Strand said. Not all the sales are "directly due to wolves," she said, "but the wolves are a major factor."

The politics of an endangered species
      Since March 1997, when Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit signed off on the plan to reintroduce Mexican wolves to Arizona and New Mexico, the battle has been brewing and now, nearly a decade later it shows no signs of cooling off.
      To ease the impact on ranchers, Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation group based in Washington, DC, established a fund to compensate ranchers for their livestock losses.
      In order for a rancher to get compensation for wolf-killed livestock, the kill must be "confirmed" as wolf predation. In many cases carcasses are never found or are in such poor condition that the cause of death cannot be absolutely determined. In addition, filing a claim is a time-consuming process, ranchers say. Also, some ranchers are reluctant to accept money from the "enemy."
      The Defenders will also pay for efforts to help avoid wolf/livestock problems. The Marks found out the Defenders would pay for hay to keep cows out of pastures frequented by wolves. The Marks did get a payment. "We appreciated that," Barbara Marks said.
      "We tried to contact them again this year but they never returned our calls."
      Later Barbara found out that the payment was what she describes as "hush money." The Defenders would not help those that oppose the program.
      In the decade since the wolf reintroduction program began, it seems there has been little movement toward common ground between the opposing sides.
      Those opposed to the wolf program often echo the statement of Catron County Manager Aymar: "It's not a wolf program it's a human program." Many see the program as unstoppable as so many people depend on it for their incomes. The program has injected nearly $8 million into the local economy, according to Fish and Wildlife.
      The Blue Range wolf project is administered as a cooperative project including six government agencies: Arizona Game and Fish, New Mexico Game and Fish, White Mountain Apache Tribe, USDA Wildlife Services, the Forest Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife.
      The Adaptive Management Oversight Committee (AMOC) is comprised of representatives from all the participating agencies.
      The committee chairman is Terry Johnson of Arizona Game and Fish.
      Johnson attributes the unabated problems in part to frustration at the slow pace of change. "People have reached the end of their rope," Johnson said. "If we agreed on something right now it would take two to three years to make a rule change.
      "It's just a mess. Here it is 2006 and we still haven't made changes that should have been made in 2001."
      Probably the most "volatile issue" connected with the program is fear, Johnson said. "Fear is something that is learned. Children learn it from their parents."
Johnson cites education as the best antidote to fear, "but you can't talk about facts if people are not receptive." Removing the source of the fear could also alleviate it, Johnson said. "This is what some people want, but it's a matter of law, the wolves have a legal right to be there.
      "When you talk about the facts at some level you're calling people liars. The fear is not rational. Some people are using it as a political tool to effect removal of the wolves."
      Johnson said that the alleged wolf kill in Canada is still not confirmed, saying that was all he would say other than "keep an open mind about it."
      Johnson said that some local candidates, including Catron County wolf investigator Carey, who is running for Sheriff, are basing their campaigns on fear.
      Catron County officials feel that they are not being treated with due respect. "Elected county officials feel they are totally ignored," said wolf researcher Strand. "County officials object to being placed on equal footing with private groups," she said.

Are the wolves wild?
      Most opponents of the wolf reintroduction plan say the wolves being released are not truly wild and because they are habituated to humans they present more of a threat. Strand said because humans feed the wolves while they're in captivity they are "imprinted with humans."
      If humans are within a mile of the wolves, Strand said, the wolves smell them and are habituated. Most documented incidents do involve wolves that have become habituated, associating humans with food.
      AMOC chairman Johnson disputes this allegation. According to Johnson, wolves raised in captivity are kept in secluded pens and there is no physical contact between humans and the wolves. Humans make very few visits to the pens and food is not taken in when wolves are present, Johnson said.
      Johnson said that when a captive wolf shows signs of "non-avoidance" they are conditioned with loud noises so they will "associate humans with unpleasantness."
      "We are pretty confident that the wolves that are released are not habituated," he said.

New boss, new direction?
      Dr. Benjamin Tuggle took over as Southwest Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seven months ago.
      In those seven months he has met three times with Catron County officials and ranching interests. The Independent caught up with him at a session in Glenwood, New Mexico last weekend.
      In a brief interview, Tuggle acknowledged the problems. "It's very apparent how polarized the communities are," he said. "It's my job to minimize the conflict and try to reduce the monetary impacts."
      Tuggle said he intends to ensure that the program looks at elements that some say have been previously ignored - including the psychological impact.
Tuggle has instructed his staff "we will not treat anyone different from anyone else."
      Tuggle acknowledged that it takes time to change the "rules" but promised that after talking to the stakeholders he will make a decision. He described management of the wolf program as a "delicate balancing act."
      The interview was cut short by 2nd District New Mexico Congressman Steve Pearce, who insisted that Tuggle rejoin the meeting.
      Researcher Strand said that Tuggle "seems to have a heart. He seems to be aware."
      Catron County Manager Aymar agrees. "He's been here and discussed" it. Aymar said Tuggle sounds like he cares, but "so far, solid evidence (of his commitment to solve the problems) is not there."
      Polarization seems to be the one constant in the wolf program.
      Comments in the five-year review show little willingness from either side of the issue to compromise. Examples of this include the following:
      * There is nothing to substantiate rancher claims of wolf losses. It seems that most wolf losses are due to poor animal husbandry.
      * Mexican wolves kill and maim for pleasure.
      * The livestock industry has been given disproportionate amount of control. Related political pressures are preventing a successful program.
      * They (USFWS) should cease bending over backward to accommodate the selfish, short sighted and vocal minority (i.e. ranchers) that oppose wolves.
      * Concerned about the lack of legitimate input from the livestock industry.

Public meeting planned at Hon-Dah
      The wolf program oversight committee (AMOC) is holding public workshop meetings Aug. 29-30 at the Hon-Dah Resort Casino. Anyone may attend the free conference. The stated goal of the workshop is to "provide a forum for discussion of issues pertaining to Mexican wolf reintroduction in the Blue Range Recovery Area in Arizona and New Mexico." The Wednesday afternoon session, starting at 1 p.m., will be a panel discussion and question and answer session. The panel will include the leaders of the participating agencies. The workshop starts at 8 a.m. both days.
      On Thursday, there will be a closed session with invited only stakeholders. According to Johnson, the closed session is to prevent people from becoming disruptive and playing to media, which he says has happened at past meetings.

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