Battling the Odds Against Wolf Reintroduction

Now that they’re endangered, the wolf has become as much a symbol as an animal. From folk tales like Little Red Riding Hood to dramatized stories of mass cattle-killing, many people want the wolf out of the lands where scientists have reintroduced them. In an excerpt of Brenda Peterson’s book Wolf Nation over at The Morning Newsthe author follows captive-bred Mexican gray wolves from a Washington sanctuary to their release site in New Mexico. What she finds is grace and determination among one of nature’s most maligned but majestic creatures, and she examines the powerful network of political and economic interests battling over wolf recovery.

The struggle between state and federal wildlife agencies over the Mexican wolf recovery continues. The Center for Biological Diversity urges that New Mexico should “extricate itself from the state politics driven by the livestock industry, stop removing wolves from the wild, release five more family packs into the Gila as scientists recommend, and write a recovery plan that will ensure the Mexican gray wolf contributes to the natural balance in the Southwest and Mexico, forever.” Even though the law demands that the USFWS fulfill the Endangered Species Act and wolf recovery has huge public support in the Southwest, the states still continue to resist. In late fall of 2016, an Arizona judge issued a court order requiring USFW to finally update a decades-old recovery plan for the endangered Mexican gray wolf by November, 2017. With only about 113 wild wolves in Arizona and New Mexico, this move toward increasing Southwest wolf populations is essential to recovering the Mexican gray wolf in America. “Without court enforcement, the plan would have kept being right around the corner until the Mexican gray wolf went extinct,” said the Center for Biological Diversity. This court order dismissed protests by ranchers and other antiwolf factions in favor of moving ahead with wolf reintroduction.

But the root cause of much antiwolf bias remains. Wildlife commissions reflect the preferences of their members. A recent Humane Society study of eighteen states’ game commissions revealed that 73 percent were “dominated by avid hunters, clearly unrepresentative of the state’s public they speak for, but in line with their funding sources.” New Mexico’s Department of Game and Fish receives $20 million each year from licenses bought by hunters, trappers, and anglers. Not much has changed since 1986 when Ted Williams wrote his famous essay, long before wolf reintroduction: “Wolves do not purchase hunting licenses. . . . That, in brief, is what is wrong with wildlife management in America.” But we are on the cusp of a cultural change in wolf recovery. As Sharman Apt Russel writes in The Physics of Beauty, “All Americans would feel better if we could agree to share our public land with one hundred Mexican wolves, a fraction of the wildness that once was here.

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