By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
There have been 80 possible wolf sightings in southwestern New Mexico and Texas since 1984, another 76 in Arizona since 1983.
"Without a photograph or a dead animal, it's hard to identify a wolf," says Adele Girmendonk, a biologist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Of the two photos Game and Fish received with wolf-sighting reports, one turned out to be a dog and the other a wolf-dog hybrid, someone's pet that escaped or was illegally released into the woods when its owner found it too wild to handle. David Parsons, who heads Fish and Wildlife's Mexican wolf reintroduction program, thinks that 156 recorded sightings over ten years is thin evidence. "Experience in other areas where wolves are recovering, such as Montana, indicates that wolves are not as secretive as we give them credit. If wolves have recolonized an area, you may get 300 sightings from a single wolf."
Besides, Dave Foreman argues, "lone wolves don't count. You need a viable population."
@body:The Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan first surfaced in 1982 as a Fish and Wildlife proposal, but such notions move slowly. The first serious discussions of its implementation didn't take place until 1986. In October of this year, the Fish and Wildlife Service will issue a draft Environmental Impact Statement for public comment. The agency is expected to recommend that Mexican wolves be reintroduced in the Blue Range Primitive Area in eastern Arizona along the New Mexico border and/or in the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The first wolves will not be released until early 1996--a date that has already been pushed back several times in the name of caution.
The first Fish and Wildlife wolf-recovery attempt, after all, had been a spectacular biological and public relations failure. In 1974, the service released four adult wolves in Michigan's Upper Peninsula--and they immediately lighted out for their Minnesota home. Though they were recaptured and set back in the designated recovery area, they were all dead within a year at the hands of humans: trapped, shot, poisoned, hit by cars.
As Dan Groebner, the Game and Fish wolf biologist, says, "They didn't do their homework. They just pushed it through, and the public didn't like it."
Wolf-reintroduction work in Montana has revolved around encouraging wild wolf packs to migrate from Canada. The Yellowstone reintroduction program (which has already completed the EIS process) will kidnap wild wolves from Canada or Minnesota and relocate them. Only the red wolf reintroduction in North Carolina and Tennessee had to rely on animals raised in captivity. Seven pups were born in the wild to those released animals this last spring--proving that it can be done.
The Mexican Wolf Recovery program started with five wolves captured in Mexico in the late 1970s. That population has burgeoned to 76 wolves kept at 12 different zoos spread from California to Detroit; there will be at least 100 animals in captivity before Fish and Wildlife takes the chance of releasing any of them.
Then, in late 1995, several mated pairs of Mexican wolves will be placed in pens at the release sites to spend six months acclimating to their new territory. They will be fed wild game, with the hope that they will acquire a taste for it, and will eventually be given live game so that they can learn to kill for themselves. Eventually, the gates to the pens will be left open so that they can come and go at will, and when they have learned to fend for themselves, they will be on their own, alone in the woods with Bossie, Bambi--and Bubba.
No one wanted to repeat the public relations blunder of the Michigan failure. In the late 1980s, the Arizona Game and Fish Department commissioned a public-opinion survey to find out how Arizonans felt about wolves. Sixty-one percent of the respondents favored wolf reintroduction, though that figure might be skewed because of the survey population.
Game and Fish questioned all of its department employees, members of the environmental group Defenders of Wildlife and random urban and rural households. For balance, they also wanted to poll the Arizona Cattlegrowers' and Wool Producers organizations, but both declined to participate as a political statement.
Ranchers have come around grudgingly; the Arizona Cattlegrowers' Association, in a 1993 resolution, ceded that the group's members "recognize the important roll [sic] of predators in maintaining a healthy and productive environment" so long as the released wolves were inoculated against rabies and parvovirus, provided they were contained in a designated area and that any livestock depredation would be fully compensated.
Perhaps the most influential lobbyist on the wolf's behalf has been a retired Phoenix woman named Bobbie Holaday. Holaday is a tough-talking lady who lives near South Mountain with a 130-pound wolf hybrid that curls around her like a lap dog.
Holaday, however, is not of the bunny-hugger breed. "My dream is, I'd like to see a day when there are enough wolves in Arizona to have a hunting season for them. That would mean we've succeeded." Working through her volunteer organization, Preserve Arizona's Wolves (PAWS), Holaday has set up a wolf task force and public meetings so that residents of affected areas can air their views. Often the participants are fretful ladies who stand up and demand the wolves not be released because they might die in the woods, "people who say, 'I love wolves because they have beautiful eyes'--that kind of crap--and the People for the West crowd hootin' and hollerin' about this wild killer."