Mogollon wolves face uncertain futures
By Catherine Feher
GILA WILDERNESS, New Mex.—The Southwest’s Mexican Gray Wolf faces an uncertain future, despite federal plans to remove other Gray wolves from the Endangered Species list. The Mexican wolf, like other wolves, was hunted almost to extinction by Anglos after their takeover of the Southwest. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has announced plans to downgrade Gray Wolves from the Endangered Species list—but has reassured pro-wolf factions that the Mexican wolves will retain their protected status.
“The problem is not whether wolves can live with human beings, the problem is whether the human beings will allow the wolves to live at all,” said Wildlife Biologist Julie Palmquist of Wolf Haven International in Tenino, Washington. “In the case of wolf recovery attempts in Alpine, Arizona and the Gila country, there is plenty of game, plenty of land, plenty of space. Wolves are willing to share, but are the people willing to share space for wolves—that is the question.”
Wolf Haven is one of five wolf centers in the United States.They have reared Mexican wolves and prepared them for reintroduction into the wild. In addition to working with the Mexican wolves, Wolf Haven is home to 30 other Gray wolves. Some of these wolves were captured as pups and taken into human homes, others were sold to Hollywood animal agents—all ended up needing a safe place to live in as natural as setting as possible.
To date, there are 18 Mexican wolves roaming the Southwest. “Wolves play a much-needed role in the balance of nature,” Palmquist explained. “The wolf culls the sick, the injured and the weak from the deer or elk herd. They help to end the suffering of the sick quickly, and the health of all predators is determined by the numbers of game available to them. The number of prey determines the number of predators—not vice versa.”
Wolf Haven has reared several of the wolves currently roaming the Gila Country and the Mogollon Rim. Last March, two adults and their three pups who were born at Wolf Haven were transported from Washington to Alpine, Arizona. The pack is called the Cienaga Pack. Sadly, one of the males was struck by a car and killed on March 24.
Four other wolves have been deliberately shot.
Other packs in the Mogollon and Gila country are the Campbell Blue pack, consisting of a mated pair and two pups; the Hawk’s Nest Pack, a mated pair (the male was reared in Wolf haven and released in 1998) and three pups; the Mule pack, a mated pair and two pups and an adopted yearling. Two more Mexican Wolf packs currently await relocation into recovery zones.
“Captive-bred wolves have proven their ability to successfully hunt and reproduce in the wild if given the opportunity,” Palmquist said. “The American public supports wolf reintroduction, but some people in the Gila have their own reasons for opposing it, and they need serious education.”
At a recent anti-wolf rally in Glenwood, in Catarin County, deep in the Gila Wilderness, opponents of wolf recovery explained assorted reasons for their position. Some were simply ignorant of the intimate and essential relationship between predator and prey. Others, ranchers who hold federal lease lands, and private lands, feared that wolves would damage their profits from leading hunting expeditions into the region.
“What these people don’t understand is that wolves don’t take the trophy elk,” Palmquist explained. “They take the sick, the maimed, the dying. Trophy hunters don’t want those. They want big bucks.”
Denise Tracy, a Mogollon, New Mexico resident, said she thought it was unfair to take hand-reared wolves and place them in wilderness. “They can’t make it, there is not enough food for them,” she explained.
But federal Fish and Wildlife officials and Albuquerque resident David Parsons, former head of the federal Wolf Recovery project have different opinions.