Withdrawal of a cattle association from a wolf restoration program hardly a sign of failure-

If we look at the history of land use in the Western United States, we find many different political interests. Some are ideological, some economic, some are both. Historically the various statewide cattle associations and stockgrower associations  have been the leaders of the conservative, or better termed “reactionary,” land use interests.  In particular they have always opposed restoration of carnivorous animals such as lynx, cougar, wolves.  More often than not they have opposed restoration of ungulates prized for their beauty and by big game hunters.

The fact that cattle associations have often been cooperators in wolf restoration programs run by state governments is a testiment to their political clout, not their desire to make the program work.

Now the New Mexico Cattle Association has withdrawn as “a cooperator” from the Mexican Wolf Program. Amazingly an AP writer’s story on the withdrawal received the headline “Support waning for Mexican gray wolf program.”  Because the cattle association now loses its direct say in the program perhaps it should read, “Mexican wolf program bolstered as Cattle Association Withdraws.”

The Mexican wolf program has fallen far short of success in terms of wolf numbers, despite the myth that wolves breed furiously, and soon spiral out of control in terms of their huge numbers.  It lingers at half the very modest recovery goal of a minimum of  100 wolves.  Most of the opposition has from the start come from several rural counties dominated by feudal like ranching operations.

Now essentially all New Mexico non-conservation interests and governmental interests have withdrawn.  There are two simple reasons. Most never wanted the wolf restored. Secondly profoundly reactionary tea party sympathizers did well in the 2010 elections replacing moderates and progressives.

The Mexican wolf is a small wolf and its numbers few, but from the beginning certain New Mexico rural interests have exaggerated or simply invented stories of its “depredations” more befitting an introduction of a thousand of the long extinct sabre-tooth tiger.




About The Author

Ralph Maughan

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.

32 Responses to New Mexico Cattle Association withdrawal from Mexican wolf collaboration is probably for the best

  1. Larry Keeney says:

    I don’t know, I hope they (wolves) make it down there but they don’t have that large Yellowstone based block of wilderness we have up here. And the country is so much more open and roaded. Just from my reading I have an opinion that the animosity down there is a lot more “no holds barred”, poisons, etc. What would help is a prosecution to match the Eastern District of Washington in the recent wolf case. $38,000 should make a dust bowl cattle operation stop and think. Especially as long as there are wolves he has a chance to collect money on phoney wolf livestock kills. I just don’t get it, if I had a cattle operation down there the last thing I would want to spend my time on is worrying about wolves. Seems like water and fences and theft by illegals would be enough to keep my mind busy.

    • Elk275 says:

      How about wolves killing your antelope,elk and deer. In New Mexico the each ranch is given a number of landowner permits which they are allowed to sell. Elks hunts can range up to $15,000 an elk, mule deer hunts to $10,000 and antelope hunts to $5,000 if there is a chance for a B/C buck. It is very big business and the North American Wildlife model is only on pubic land. The wildlife has been semi privatized.

      • Jeff N. says:


        Are you saying that the elk, deer, antelope, because they are on private land, are now “owned” by the private property holders or did I misunderstand your comment?

        • Elk275 says:

          No, there are not owned by the property owners but the owners own and control the hunting permits. The hunting permits are worth money, big money. The animals therefore have become de facto private property. It is worst in Texas. I am not in agreement with the New Mexico or Texas concept, unforunately that model is moving north little by little.

      • Louise Kane says:

        Elk, the state is issuing permits directly to private landowners allowing them to sell the permits? Is that correct?

        • Elk275 says:

          The hunter has to purchase a state hunting license and a tag for the species of animal hunter from a license vendor at either the non resident or resident price depending upon there resident status. But in order to be able to purchase the license the landowner is given a number of permits that allow the hunter to purchase a license. The permit is not a hunting license but a right to purchase a license. The landowner is allow to sell these permits.

          I maybe slightly wrong with terminology and procedure but that is generally how it works.

  2. Ralph Maughan says:

    Larry Keeney,

    Correct me if I am wrong, but from what you write I think you somehow missed the separate reintroduction of the wolf sub-species, Mexican wolf (canis lupis baleyi) to the Arizona/New Mexico border back on March 29, 1998. Eleven Mexican wolves were released into the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area (BRWRA) on the Apache National Forest in eastern Arizona

    Because this sub-species was totally extinct in the wild, all those reintroduced had been captive-bred, making the program more difficult from the start. Unlike the Northern Rockies recovery where wolves were released in 1995 and 1996, the Mexican wolves have seen been augmented many times to try to keep the population from disappearing. More augmentation, however, is currently on hold even though many Mexican wolves are available from various facilities.

    Though this sub-species is about 20% smaller than the gray wolves set free in Idaho and Yellowstone, opponents have from the start accused the Mexican wolves of stalking children and severely damaging livestock. My view is that their actual impact has been trivial because their numbers never even reached 100, the minimum goal.

    Fact sheet:
    Welcome to the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program

    • Larry Keeney says:

      No I’m full up on the subspecies I’m just speaking with regard to poaching and intense man caused resistance/extermination. I meant to relate the geography to how much easier it may be, and probably is to poach wolves in that ecosystem. For the most part vistas are bigger and more opportunity to see or track wolves which is how some of the mortality has occurred. The hatred is spread to anyone federal. At least up here fed employees don’t always go in teams of two but down there you find all you can do in the office to keep from being out and vulnerable. Then the other point I was not clear about is the reintro site doesn’t have the large totally protected “Yellowstone” type core. They have the Gila and some wild country but nothing that secures many packs while the outer perimeter tries to get a foothold. I am actually surprised that they are at a meager 57. I thought it was a lost cause back when the number was around 25 and seemed a man caused mortality was in the news every week. If they can get to the 100 mark there is real hope.

    • WM says:

      Ralph (Maska, too),

      If I am not mistaken, of the FWS documents this is one of the more recent that gives a good summary of the program, and the genetics.


  3. Jeff says:

    The interesting part of the most recent Lobo update is that several natually forming pairs are being reported this winter. I don’t think to date there have been naturally formed packs anywhere in AZ or NM. Also, AZ softened its stance on releasing additiaonal wolves in the future.

    • Maska says:

      There have been numerous naturally formed packs in Arizona and New Mexico over the past several years, including San Mateo, Fox Mountain, Dark Canyon, Paradise, and several others. The highly successful Middle Fork Pack managed to achieve “breeding pair” status* this past year despite the fact that both breeding animals have only three legs. The male lost his leg to a leghold trap, while the female had hers amputated following a gunshot injury. The percentage of wild-born lobos among the 58 counted in January is approximately 95%. There has not been an initial release of a wolf from captivity since 2008. For additional perspective on the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction program, I suggest readers visit http://www.mexicanwolves.org.

      *A breeding pair is defined in the Final Rule as an adult male and an adult female wolf that have produced at least two pups that survive until the end of the year in which they were born.

      • Jeff N. says:


        I pretty much repeated what you said in your post. I didn’t see that you had respondedto Jeff already. My bad.

        • Maska says:

          No problem. As the old Russian proverb goes: Repetition is the mother of learning. 🙂

    • Jeff N. says:


      There have been numerous documented pairs forming in the wild since 1998, however you are correct, it seems that this past year end winter count did turn up a handful of newly formed pairs which bodes well for the lobo. Also, I believe @ 90% of the current population has been born in the wild.

      So when you hear the argument from the local hystericals like Laura Schneberger, that this current batch of wolves have been hand fed by humans, thus lacks their instinctive fear of humans, it’s bullshit.

      • Laura says:

        Oh Jeff, of course the FWS feed them. If you don’t believe it ask the FWS. They are doing it to attempt to stop the surplus livestock killing that occurs and supplement litters. The middle fork female lost her leg to an elk hunting injury not a gunshot wound.

      • Kristi says:

        Ah, yes, Laura. A major player in the NM hysteria and ignorance game. She’s in line with Idaho as far as the anti-wolf mentality goes.

  4. Maska says:

    Just a minor clarification: It was the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, not the Cattlegrowers Association, that recently bailed out of cooperator status. The NMDA is a state agency whose head is selected by the New Mexico State University board of regents. Only government entities, agencies, and tribes may hold official cooperator status. NGO’s like the Cattlegrowers Association or Defenders of Wildlife, for example, may not.

  5. I spent a few weeks in the Alpine, Arizona area three years ago, but did not see any wolves. The side roads were still blocked with snow.
    I saw lots of elk, but came away with the feeling that Gray Wolves probably lived in that country originally. I think that Mexican Wolves have a hard time existing on Elk because of their small size. They may have originally depended somewhat on scavenging the kills of Gray Wolves, much like coyotes do. The fact that they have not increased their population since the original introduction supports my observations.
    I also think that the biologists in charge have overdone the radio collaring and monitoring to the point of studying them to death.
    I would like to see additional transplants put where there is a large population of deer and perhaps other smaller prey and see if the Mexican Wolves do better there.

    • Maska says:

      The original release consisted of eleven animals in 1998. The population grew more or less in sync with pre-release projections until 2003, when it hit 55, after which time, wolf managers started routinely removing wolves for being involved in three livestock depredations over a period of 365 days. Whole packs, like the nine member Saddle Pack, were removed. The population declined during this period and for a year or two after the suspension of this policy in 2009. In 2010 the population grew from 42 to 50. In 2011, despite the massive Wallow Fire in Arizona, the population grew from 50 to 58, and the number of breeding pairs rose from two to six.

      These wolves have been shown to be capable of killing elk, beginning with the killing of an elk by one of the first three pairs released, Hawk’s Nest, only two weeks after their release from the pen. Their diet consists of approximately 75% elk, some of them undoubtedly scavenged, but others most definitely killed.

      I agree that it would be good to see lobos closer to the border, where the prey is mostly deer, but it’s pretty clear they can also make it in the current recovery area if the project continues to work with local livestock operators on proactive measures to prevent depredations, keeps wolves in the wild whenever possible, and gets a handle on illegal shootings, which current number about 40 since 1998. Finally, new releases are badly needed to ameliorate the effects of inbreeding depression in the form of small litter sizes and poor pup survival.

      • Ralph Maughan says:

        Thanks you, Maska. Can you tell us why no wolves to augment are currently being released?

        • Jeff N. says:

          I can take a stab at this. First, NM will only allow releases in their state if the wolves were previously in the wild. Example, a pack is released in AZ, gets into a little trouble with cattle, the Feds come in and capture the wolf/wolves. This wolf/these wolves are now candidates for translocation into NM. Bottom line, the wolves had to be in the wild, at some point, in order for them to be candidates for release in NM. Wolves are free to wander from AZ to NM on their own.

          Pertaining to releases in AZ, the USFWS has been attempting to keep AZ as a partner in the recovery so the AZ Game and Fish board hold some clout in the decision making regarding releases. As you can imagine, the AZGF board is pretty stacked with ranchers. They recently voted to not allow releases until there was a final revised recovery plan released by USFWS. They have since softened their stance and will allow releases in the event that wild lobo was killed illegally…..confirmed poached wolf = one new released wolf.

          • Jeff N. says:

            Adding to my above post. In the past the past few years the USFWS has had a hands of policy in regard to recapturing wolves that have caused a few problems, and for the most part most of the problems are occurring with 1 pack in NM. AZ has been pretty problem free. So even if USFWS were recapturing problem wolves, they wouldn’t be the AZ portion of th population…..point….no reason to translocate any wolves from AZ to NM.

            • Jeff N. says:

              One more thing. There are currently wolves in captivity that are candidates for release into NM. I believe these candidate wolves were captured as pups from a problem pack and sent back to captivity due to the adults being “removed” from the population. These pups are at adulthood but have yet to be released back into the wild and the program continues to struggle.

            • Jeff N. says:

              hands “off” policy “hands of”

            • Jeff N. says:

              Holy crap folks….the synapses sent from my brain are not reaching my fingers.

              From the above post it should read – Hands “off” policy – and not – Hands “of” policy. Thank you and my apologies.

        • Maska says:

          Ralph: Part of the problem is that according to the Final Rule, wolves may be released directly from the captive population only into the primary recovery zone, which is part of the Apache National Forest in Arizona. The only wolves permitted to be released into New Mexico are those that have previously had their paws on the ground in Arizona.

          There’s a pack that has been waiting in the bullpen, so to speak, throughout 2010 and 2011, that has good genetics and has been treated with conditioned taste aversion. Complicated politics delayed the release in 2010. They were again slated for release in 2011, but the most likely release area was overrun by the Wallow Fire, which also made it tough to keep tabs on the existing packs, much less manage a new release.

          The FWS has an environmental assessment that would change the rule on direct releases into NM already completed, as far as we know, but it has yet to be released for public comment. It’s unclear to me exactly where the hang-up is—in the regional office or higher up in D.C. In any event, conservationists have been pressing FWS to release the EA and get the ball rolling on more New Mexico releases. This is critical, since the New Mexico portion of the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area (BRWRA) is much larger than the Arizona portion.By the way, the Three Year Review, way back in 2001, emphasized the importance of changing the rule on direct releases. Eleven years later, the wolves are still waiting.

          Basically, one can summarize the answer to your question in one word: politics.

  6. Larry Keeney says:

    What success has there been on prosecution of poaching wolves? And how many wolves are listed as poached compared to total mortality from all other causes (depredation removal included).

    • Jeff N. says:

      I believe there has been only one prosecution (two at the most). Government removal outpaces poaching and any other cause.


April 2012


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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