The Country Formerly Known as Wolf?

By Halina Szyposzynski


The military has its “five-o’clock follies.”  The Mexican Wolf Adaptive Management Work Group (MWAMWG) has its “quarterly quirks.”  Items from the January 27th meeting: 


·         After receiving complaints from Greenlee County residents, wolf managers are removing the phrase “Wolf Country” from signage advising of wolf presence in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area.  Apparently, this language has offended the sensitivities of wolf opponents.  Shooting sports enthusiasts throughout the Recovery Area will appreciate that the revised signs, as compared to the current ones, are expected to be of equal target practice value.  Perhaps greater, being fresh.


·         A proposed compensation and incentive plan, currently in its conceptual stage, would establish a non-governmental fund to pay ranchers for tolerating wolves.  Its possible structure? A board composed of local residents – none of whom are offended by the phrase “Wolf Country” –  would evaluate livestock loss claims and adjudicate compensation amounts.  Ranchers would be paid to take proactive measures to reduce livestock predation, examples of which did not include carcass removal or liming.  Ranchers would also receive payments for each loss attributed (conceptually?) to wolves.  Presumably, the bank cutting the checks would have a board of directors, composed of as yet unspecified parties.  The audience was assured that “this is not the fox guarding the henhouse.”


Payments could be made in advance for the anticipated livestock loss increase attributed to wolf presence,  above some hypothetically normal rate of loss.  Payments could be based on the number of living wolves or pups produced;  the problem with this option is that it requires an actual increase in living wolves and pups.  Alternatively, payments could be based on the number of cows grazed, on public lands.  No word yet on whether rates of lightning, starvation, illness or falling off cliffs, which cause the vast majority of cattle losses, are also expected to increase.


On a serious and positive note, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle was described as being committed to growing the wild wolf population to meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act.   Several wolf advocates who have met with Dr. Tuggle support this appraisal. 


But fear not, the quirkiness continues:


·         In the 5 Year Review, the Adaptive Management Oversight Committee (AMOC) recommended rule changes which Fish & Wildlife intends to pursue through the NEPA scoping process.  One possible subset of changes surpasses the hopes of wolf advocates. Not only would it allow wolves to finally disperse beyond the current Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area boundaries; it would extend the blessings of “non-essential experimental population” status to some larger area of Arizona and New Mexico.    


Blessings to date include Standard Operating Procedure 13, alias three strikes and out; wolf recaptures and relocations which sometimes are neither pack-wreckers nor fatal; a 2006 moratorium on wolf releases; provision of radio-collar receivers and near real-time wolf locations to people who are offended by the phrase “Wolf Country”; a wild wolf count well below projections.  Yet, the minority of citizens who receive subsidies to engage in archaic land uses while teaching fear and hate to their children, has not been placated.  Some of them assert separatist rights that trump federal sovereignty.  Take care, hapless Reader, lest someone offer to bring democracy to your country.  


·         How will rule changes proceed in the absence of a functioning Southwest Distinct Population Segment Recovery Team, which must establish updated population goals and strategies that may require quite different rule changes?  “With difficulty,” meeting attendees were told. 


Let us hope that all these processes move smoothly.  Obviously, the sooner these darned Mexican gray wolves are delisted, the sooner we can start hunting them.  Does the Reader consider that an insensitive remark, in view of the 21 illegal shootings, 1 prosecuted-but-judged-legal shooting, 8 hit and runs,  8 – possibly 9 as of this writing – cow protection shootings directed by Fish & Wildlife, and 15 deaths associated with recaptures since 1998?  Wolf lovers (and tree huggers) require thicker hides.   Per another 5 Year Review recommendation, the wolves might be legally hunted long before a new recovery goal exists, when they reach some arbitrary number, oh, say, 125.  


Attempted satire aside, the bifurcation of wolf recovery versus reintroduction has itself been a quirky process, tending to divert attention from Fish & Wildlife, the ultimately accountable agency.  Those in charge of restoring our Southwestern lobo may be committed to either the letter of the law or to its spirit.  It would be foolish to presume who is which and which is who.  Usually the official players operate somewhere between a rock and a hard place, maybe in a better Wolf Country that exists in the mind’s eye.


The next MWAMWG meeting is on Saturday, April 21st in Bayard, New Mexico.


 “…the best wolf habitat resides in the human heart.  You have to leave a little space for them to live.”    – – – Ed Bangs


With apologies to Mr. Bangs for associating his May, 2003 comment  to the Christian Science Monitor with a piece that will probably offend lots of people.  I should have quoted a famous dead guy, but it was too beautiful to resist.


Halina Szyposzynski

February 7, 2007






  1. Alan Gregory Avatar

    I believe ranchers in the recovery region should also receive a payment every time someone sees a red-tailed hawk fly over the public rangeland they’re grazing livestock on. I mean, come on, this is only fair. Right?

  2. Halia Szyposzynski Avatar
    Halia Szyposzynski

    Thanks to Jean Ossorio for pointing out that the first wolf shooting by a camper was not prosecuted and judged legal, as I wrote, and as suggested in the 5 Year Review. The camper who shot Turkey Creek alpha male AM156 was never prosecuted and never adjudicated at all, having claimed self-defense as his version of events progressed. Campbell Blue AF174’s shooting was successfully prosecuted, the ONLY such case thus far. The counts I gave are correct. Thanks Jean.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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