against the Mexican Wolf
gray wolf is the most endangered mammal in North America.
Native to northern Mexico and a wide swath of the American
Southwest, the federal government poisoned, trapped and shot
every Mexican wolf in the U.S. on behalf of the livestock
the government shipped poison to ranchers south of the border
and helped reduce the wolf population there to just five known
individuals. Only after passage of the Endangered Species
Act in 1973 were those few wary survivors captured alive in
a last-ditch effort to stave off extinction.
persevering five became unlikely pioneers, along with two
other Mexican wolves already in captivity, in an emergency
captive breeding program intended to allow reintroduction
of the species into their native habitat.
politics of reintroduction
industry pulled out all the stops to prevent a reintroduction.
During the 1980's, the industry persuaded Reagan Administration
officials to separate the male and female wolves in captivity
which would have resulted in the final extinction of
the remainder of the species after they had been captured
ostensibly to save them. A lawsuit by conservationists averted
did succeed in persuading the federal government to defer
to weaker state governments in planning a reintroduction site.
With the federal government abdicating its legal responsibility
to decide where the wolves would have the best chance, the
highly politicized New Mexico Game and Fish Commission, dominated
by ranchers, stated its opposition to reintroduction anywhere
in the state except White Sands Missile Range -- a relatively
small, isolated tract without livestock, but also lacking
any evidence of historic utilization by wolves.
Game Commission, in contrast, conducted a biological assessment
of several areas of historic wolf habitat, all of which they
found could support wolves. One of these areas was the Blue
Range managed by the Apache National Forest of southeastern
biologists knew the best habitat for wolves in the Southwest
lay in and around the adjoining Gila National Forest of southwestern
New Mexico. They drew recovery area boundaries encompassing
both the Gila and the Apache National Forests. But to mollify
New Mexico's opposition, they only gave themselves authority
to release wolves from the captive population into the Apache
National Forest -- premising the plan's success on the wolves'
ability to migrate on their own to the Gila.
plan also included provisions for recapturing any wolves that
preyed on livestock, with the option for re-releasing them
anywhere in the bi-forest, bi-state recovery area. In such
"translocation" scenarios -- but not when it came
to captive wolves that hadn't previously been released --
they would have the authority to re-release wolves in the
Gila. But over-all, the reintroduction plan was wholly written
to meet ranchers' objections -- including a provision found
nowhere else in endangered species recovery history guaranteeing
any wolves that leave the recovery area -- even if they are
on other public lands -- will be recaptured. And to assuage
ranchers' opposition further, the private non-profit Defenders
of Wildlife agreed to reimburse ranchers for any losses to
science and frivolous pleadings
first 11 Mexican wolves were finally being prepared for life
in the wild, the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association and
the New Mexico Farm Bureau filed a lawsuit to shut down the
reintroduction program. They claimed the wolves were not in
fact Mexican wolves, but hybrids, and argued that reintroduction
would harm the threatened Mexican spotted owl, another imperiled
animal despised by area ranchers.
Journal editorialized that "crocodile tears over the
fate of the Mexican spotted owl are so contrary to the track
record of ranching groups as to be bereft of credibility,"
and that "a federal judge might consider sanctions for
filing frivolous pleadings."
of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and other
groups were granted intervener status at the trial, arguing
for the wolves. Biologists testified that genetic evidence
clearly indicated the wolves were pure-bred Mexican wolves,
and no evidence pointed to any impact of wolves on owls. The
suit was summarily dismissed.
industry ratcheted up its rhetoric, linking species recovery
to the Nazi Holocaust. The Arizona Beef Council, in a presentation
on "the wolf infestation of Eastern Arizona," compared
wolf reintroduction to the "tactics used in prewar Germany
when the green uniformed soldiers of Hitler's Third Reich
isolated groups of people for neutralization." Within
half a year of the historic March, 1998 reintroduction, five
of the first eleven wolves had been shot, one disappeared
without a trace, and the first wild born wolf in the U.S.
in 70 years disappeared after its mother was shot. The government
hastily re-captured the remaining wolves for their own safety,
later letting them go again. But several other wolves released
in 1999 and 2000, notwithstanding their radio tracking collars,
have also mysteriously disappeared.. A jailhouse informant
convicted of a poaching violation in Arizona stated on tape
that livestock industry leaders had offered a bounty on the
lives of all the wolves. The only person convicted of killing
a wolf, James Michael Rogers from a longstanding ranching
family in eastern Arizona, was sentenced in October 2000 to
4 months in jail and 6 months house arrest, followed by three
years probation. The existence of a bounty has never been