Howls of protest greet Mexican wolf reintroduction
New Mexico program faces higher hurdles than similar one in Yellowstone.
(Page 3 of 3)
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Yet several polls show widespread public support for wolf reintroduction in both Arizona and New Mexico. Joe Saenz, a Chiricahua Apache and owner of WildHorse Outfitters in Silver City, applauds the wolf’s return. They attract customers eager to hear and see them, he says. They’ll also help restore an out-of-balance landscape. He understands ranchers’ concerns, but ranchers operate fine with wolves and grizzlies present elsewhere.
“You just have to be more vigilant,” he says. “Some teach people to kill all the snakes so you can walk around the grass. We were taught to walk carefully.”
Others raise the issue of what should happen on public lands, and who should pay for it. A 2005 Government Accountability Office report found that grazing allotments on public land cost taxpayers $115 million yearly. Ranchers pay $1.35 per cow-calf pair monthly. Grazing on private land, meanwhile, costs between $10 and $20 per pair monthly, says John Horning, executive director of WildEarth Guardians in Santa Fe, N.M. “It ends up being quite a subsidy,” he says.
No shortage of issues or complexity
Historically, the US government enticed people to the West with the promise of free predator control and cheap grazing. Modern conservationists call that “welfare.” Ranchers still see themselves as pioneers on land no one else wanted. To them, the wolf-recovery program is meddling – or worse, betrayal.
“Why do you have to destroy a people to recover an animal or protect an animal?” says Jess Carey, Catron County’s wolf investigator. The ESA “wasn’t set up to destroy families, but that’s exactly what it’s doing.”
Says Parsons, “There’s no shortage of issues, and there’s no shortage of complexity.”
Defenders of Wildlife says it is restructuring its compensation program to share the costs of antiwolf measures up front – fences and extra rangers – to preempt predation rather than pay for livestock already lost.
Parsons and Horning hope to buy and retire grazing allotments, an idea that interests some ranchers, at least privately, says Parsons. The obstacle: guaranteeing that allotments won’t be reauctioned later. That depends on federal legislation that doesn’t exist yet, he says.
Tuggle thinks ranchers are integral to the program’s success. They’re natural stewards, and working ranches are bulwarks against wilderness-unfriendly development, he says. He intends to create a fund and pay for proactive antiwolf ranching practices with the interest. And, alluding to recent political shifts, Tuggle foresees an eventual revamping of the recovery program.
“The program is not going away,” he says. But “it’s absolutely critical that we do not make the mistake we made when we first started. And that is to say ‘Here is the wolf program. Here are the wolves. Deal with it.’ ”