Many times the sound of howling and yelping coyotes awake me from a sound and cozy slumber. I sit bolt upright in my bed as my sleep-filled brain tries to calculate where my critters are and whether or not they are safe. The dogs on the floor beside me, the cat on the foot of the bed, I roll over and go back to sleep.
In the years that I’ve lived in the mountains outside Albuquerque, I’ve lost three cats and three ducks to coyotes. I know they are natural predators and if my pets are outside, there is a chance they’ll fall prey. I hear the coyotes, but I hardly see them. They don’t generally come close to humans. They are after the squirrels and rabbits—and an occasional cat or duck.
But that could all change due to a new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) plan to expand the area for the Mexican grey wolf reintroduction. The current plan calls for virtually all the southern half of New Mexico to become wolf habitat—but wolf advocates at a hearing about the plan, held in Truth or Consequences, NM, on Wednesday, August 13, repeatedly declared that Southern New Mexico wasn’t enough. They want the wolf introduced north of I-40—which would include Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Some called for wolves to be released in the Grand Canyon and the Four Corners area.
Wolves are master predators—and they are enemies of coyotes. Wolves attack bigger prey: deer and elk, horses, and cattle—but are known to carry off a dog or cat as well. The wolves that are a part of the reintroduction program are not afraid of people and will come right up to a house if they are hungry.
Supporters of the expanded plan plead for people to “open their eyes and hearts to wolves, to remove boundaries.” One claimed: “The big bad wolf isn’t so bad after all,” and added, “there’s no proof a wolf has ever harmed a human.” “Wolves are demonized” and “wolves don’t hurt humans” were reoccurring themes throughout the evening hearing—where 70 people spoke (48 for the expanded plan, 22 against). Not everyone who wanted to be heard was given the opportunity. The hearing was conducted with precision—cutting people off mid-sentence at the 2-minute mark—and ended promptly at 9:00 PM.
Most of the 22 against the plan live in the areas already impacted by the current wolf reintroduction—the Gila National Forest on the New Mexico/Arizona border.
One woman told of growing up on her family’s ranch. She remembers being able to play by the stream without fear. But now, with wolves around, it is a different story for her grandchildren. They came to visit one day. They brought their new puppy. As they bounded out of the car, toward the house, two wolves emerged from the creek and snatched the puppy as the shocked children helplessly watched. They are now afraid to go to grandma’s house. They have nightmares.
Another told how she felt when a wolf was spotted less than 35 feet from her children. Her husband was away. She grabbed the children and, along with the dogs, stayed locked in the house—only to see the wolf on the front porch with its nose pressed against the window pane. She has reported on the incident: “Throughout the evening my border collie whimpered at the front door, aggressively trying to get out. Both dogs paced on high alert all night.” The next day wolf tracks were found all around the house—including the children’s play yard. The wolf was euthanized on private property within 150 yards of the house. She concludes her story: “It’s difficult to describe the terror of a predator so fearless and eager to get into my home.”
Others told similar stories. Children, waiting for the school bus, have to be caged to be protected from the wolves. Nine ranches in the current habitat area along the New Mexico/Arizona border, have been sold due to wolf predation—too many cattle are killed and ranchers are forced off the land.
Had I been allowed to speak—and I did sign up — I would have addressed the lunacy of the plan. After huge amounts of effort and resources have been invested to save the sand dune lizard and the lesser prairie chicken in and around the oil patch of southeastern New Mexico, they now want to introduce a master predator that will gobble up the other endangered species? After all, as many proponents pointed out, “wolves don’t have maps.” They don’t stay within the boundaries on the FWS maps, they go where the food is—just ask the families living in the current range.
As I listened to the presenters, I wondered: “Why do they do this?” People and their property need to be protected. Instead, supporters whined that capturing wolves and moving them away from communities “traumatizes” them. What about the harm to humans? To the traumatized children? Does human blood need to be shed to consider that they have been harmed?
Perhaps the answer to “why?” came from one wolf supporter who opened with this: “I am from New York. I don’t know anything about ranching or wolves.” And then added: “Ranching will be outdated in 10 to 15 years. We can’t keep eating meat.”
State Senator Bill Soules, from Las Cruces, supports the new, expanded plan. He said: “I’ve had many people contact me wanting wolves protected. I’ve had no one contact me with the opposing view”—perhaps that is because neither phone number listed on his New Mexico Legislature webpage takes you to a person or voicemail.
Calls to our elected officials do matter. Contact yours and tell him/her that you want people protected, that humans shouldn’t be harmed by an expanded wolf reintroduction territory.
I wrote a short version of my experience at the hearing for the Albuquerque Journal because I wanted people there to be aware of the plan to introduce wolves into close proximity to the Albuquerque area. My op ed in the local paper generated a vitriolic dialogue on the website—with more than 90 comments at the time of this writing. Many said things like this one, supposedly from a woman in Concord, NH: “If you don’t like it move to the city; it is their home and you moved into it, so either deal with it and stop your whining or move back to the city.” Yeah, that will work really well for the ranchers who earn their living and feed America by raising livestock.
This story is about New Mexico, Arizona, and the Mexican grey wolf. But similar stories can easily be found in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana where the Canadian grey wolf was reintroduced nearly two decades ago. The wolf population has grown so rapidly that they have been known to aggressively kill livestock and cause millions of dollars of loss to ranching families—with the Idaho record being 176 sheep killed in one night.
In Wyoming, the wolf has been removed from the endangered species list, and ranchers can now kill the wolf and protect their herds without fear of punishment from our government. Even the USFWS is removing and euthanizing the wolves that were intentionally introduced into the region. As recently as August 21, 2014, wolves are wreaking havoc, killing sheep just 50 miles outside of Spokane, WA—where the U.S. FWS has authorized a rancher to kill the wolves and, much to the dismay of environmental groups, state wildlife agents are killing wolves to protect people and property.
Environmental groups have been pushing to bring the wolf back to Colorado through the Rocky Mountain National Park.
While the public hearing regarding the expanded introduction of the Mexican grey wolf is over, the USFWS is accepting written comments on the proposed revision to the Nonessential Experimental Population of the Mexican wolf through September 23. Please add to the discussion—though they don’t make it easy as to be accepted, comments must be substantive, related to the proposed alternatives, or scientifically valid, and something not yet considered.
People shouldn’t lie awake in fear for their families and property because our own government introduces a predator amongst us.