There’s an old saying about the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. In the West, this could easily apply to public lands ranching and predator management. Ranchers want the predators gone to protect their bottom line but predators are a key part of ecosystem health and are critically important to the natural function of the nation’s public lands.
In the case of the Mexican gray wolf, the livestock industry succeeded in exterminating them from the U.S. and darn near caused them to go extinct. The last five wolves – four males and one female – were caught in Mexico in between 1977 and 1980 and the entire species (Canis lupus baileyi) was brought back from the brink through captive breeding and ultimately, release into the wilds of Arizona and New Mexico under the recovery mandate of the Endangered Species Act. The Mexican wolf recovery program has had its ups and downs, but after 22 years is still being mismanaged to appease public lands ranchers with five wolves killed for livestock depredations just this year.
For example, there is a family of wolves on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest near Springerville that is known as the Saffel Pack. Comprised of a single mom and at least four yearlings, this family has recently had endless troubles making a go of it on lands that were historically occupied by their ancestors. Since 2018, five Saffel pack members have been found dead and the circumstances are under investigation. In 2019, during routine trapping, the breeding male of the pack was maimed. He had to spend a month in Albuquerque recovering from his amputation. Once he was returned to the wild, he didn’t retain his place in the family group and instead wandered alone until he was ultimately killed in June 2020 for preying on domestic livestock. One of the younger female wolves was found dead in January 2020.
Another yearling, named Hope, was cross-fostered into the pack in 2019, but her current whereabouts are unknown.
The rest of the wolf family remain in the general area, and now they are being blamed for additional livestock deaths which puts them at risk for removal too.
The livestock industry has held sway over the west since ranchers came west with their herds in the mid-1800s. In fact, Sam Saffel, for whom Saffel Canyon is named and which is the origin of the pack’s name, arrived in the area in 1886 with his own herd of cattle. Though he and his wife started a saloon in 1900, the fact was that early pioneers like Saffel were an integral part of the United States’ efforts to displace Indigenous Nations and claim the Arizona territory. In addition, these colonizers wiped out native species of wildlife. The Merriam’s elk, a small subspecies of elk once found primarily in Arizona, was considered extinct by 1906 due to rampant overgrazing and unchecked hunting. Livestock losses from Mexican wolves followed the extermination of the predator’s wild food sources, and Mexican wolves were largely killed off by federal agents to protect livestock interests by the mid 1920s.
Thus, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues lethal removal orders due to livestock depredations, history is repeating itself. With only 163 wolves in the wild at the beginning of this year, and with the entire population facing serious issues with inbreeding, each and every wolf on the ground is critical to the success of the program. These highly-social animals don’t take well to pack disruptions. The loss of the breeding male from the Saffel pack and the suspicious death of a sister in January 2020 are probably driving at least some of the problematic behaviors this pack is engaging in; the current range conditions in the area are unknown, but every head of livestock displaces numerous other prey species, and so any cows on the ground mean far fewer wild species. With at least four mouths to feed, the wolf mama can hardly be blamed for availing herself of cattle on the national forest. The calves are easy prey, the wolves are hungry, and the land belongs to the American public.
Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the last century. Let’s save the lobo.
Tell U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to let the rest of the Saffel pack remain in the wild: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southwest Regional Office, 500 Gold Avenue SW, Albuquerque, NM 87102; (505) 248-6920
Let Arizona Game and Fish Department know that these wolves are important to you: Arizona Game and Fish Department, 5000 W. Carefree Highway, Phoenix, AZ 85086-5000; 602-942-3000.
And tell the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest that you want public lands managed for the recovery of imperiled wildlife species: Springerville Ranger District, P.O. Box 760, 165 S. Mountain Ave., Springerville, AZ 85938; (928) 333-6200
Greta Anderson is a plant nerd, a desert rat, and a fan of wildness. She is the Deputy Director of Western Watersheds Project and lives on the land of the Tohono O'Odham and Yaqui people in what is now called Arizona. Greta's opinions and world views are not necessarily reflected in the posts of other authors on this blog.
21 Responses to Save the Saffel Pack
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Years ago, I took my family up to a wolf preserve near Nederland, CO. Among other things, we were introduced to some Mexican gray wolf puppies. In fact, my daughters were allowed to feed (nurse) them by bottle. They were to be reintroduced into the wild in New Mexico once they were grown. (I was also allowed to go into the large habitat for those wolves. Once the alpha female accepted me, the rest of the pack followed. What a unique experience being the lone human in a pack of wolves!)
The wolves being raised for release into captivity are specifically managed to limit their exposure — and thus retain their fear — of humans. I’m also unaware of a wolf preserve near Nederland, Colorado that works with the wolf recovery program. While I don’t doubt that you had a wonderful experience with wolves, I am puzzled by your account, since it’s clearly at odds with protocol for captive rearing.
“exposure to — and thus retain their fear of — humans.”
Thanks, Greta for a powerful account and history. I’ve been an admirer and supporter of WWP for years starting as a prof at Utah State U.
The same argument against cattle on public lands affects grizzly bear survival and conservation. I tried to make this case in my recent book “One of Us: A Biologist’s Walk Among Bears”. Currently the Upper Green River area is threatened. Yellowstone2UintasConnection is leading the fight. They need our support.
Western Watersheds Project and Alliance for the Wild Rockies are also involved in the fight for grizzlies in the Upper Green. We’re working with Yellowstone2UintasConnection on this. Read more about our recent efforts:
Save our precious wolves
Even if I were to set the moral question aside (because that doesn’t work with people), there is an economic reason to protect large Carnivora and other predators because without them the ecosystems deteriorate and slowing it down (It can’t be realistically stopped without those species) costs billions on such a large scale. The cattle shouldn’t have been on public land in the first place and even if this were to happen on private land the only appropriate action, in that case, would be to order the rancher to step up non-lethal protection of the cattle and have the kill reimbursed on market value.
There are places where stepping up non-lethal protection doesn’t work, and the only rational way to end the conflict is to remove the livestock. The removal of livestock is better for all the other native wildlife as well, not to mention soils, waters and other aspects of the environment that we’ve gotten used to being in poor condition due to grazing use. Especially where there is a recovering species, those species should take priority. Public lands habitat is all they’ve got.
Why don’t those Ranchers just get some Irish Wolfhounds to protect their damn cattle and keep them on their own land !! Wolves were here first!!
I totally agree. They deserve the right to exist! The cattle are destroying the land.
I have had high content wolf hybrids for 14 years.They have plenty of space and hunting room. Man should be so smart and loyal. Thanks for your are cle
Salvem estas criaturas maravilhosas, nao é possível que estas vidas não importem em detrimento do fator economico.
This is so WRONG! Wolves are NECESSARY magnificent animals. More than enough have already been slaughtered. Don’t let willful ignorance, greed and politics destroy yet another family!!
Por favor no maten mas lobos..
Public lands should not be used for private ranching. It should be for wildlife and on occasion those humans who have respect for the land and the wildlife that call it home. That being said it will never happen…..humans are too greedy, selfish and short-sighted to see the big picture or change their evil ways.. The best thing that could happen for the planet and the non human species is for the virus called human to go the way of the dinosaur. My heart breaks for these wolves and every non human species that humans think are OK to murder for fun, capture and lock in a cage for entertainment, torture for humans to eat or in the name of nedicine. We are destroying everything just by breeding out of control! 7.7 billion and counting…..how sad that the species who thinks they are the smartest on the planet are too blinded by their “self importance” to recognize how truly stupid they are…..
Lisa says it all thank you lisa
Feed the FAMILY and ler ut go to SANCTUARY.
Leave the wild to the wildlife, too much land is given over to housing and farming. We need wolves to control the wildernesses. Don’t mess with the eco system.
Totally agree with Julie
Thank you Lisa you have put in
to words so well
The Mexican wolf program is a travesty. The Federal government trapped the last remaining wild wolves, then turned them over to zoos as breeding stock. Once the zoos had sufficient stock for display, they started to engage in the family separation program called “cross-fostering.”
Wolves before ranchers. Save our endangered wolves. There is no excuse for not protecting our wildlife and land.