Wildlife Disservice

Someone is shooting endangered Mexican gray wolves. The government's flawed reintroduction program helped put them in the crosshairs.

Soon after the wolves were released, conflict erupted between the two packs.
"The [larger] Hawk's Nest pack came over and sort of just bullied and took over things," she said. "It appeared to me there were lots of altercations for a few days."

The Campbell Blue wolves moved on.
"Within a week of leaving, that female was killed [shot August 7]," Boyd-Heger said. "Maybe if the pens were not so close together, those wolves maybe would not have gone over there, but who knows?"

The reintroduction team is unlikely to make the same mistake again.
The acclimation pens have been moved much farther apart. Two of the pens are also much farther away from Alpine--with one new pen in the heart of Blue Range Primitive Area.

Whether the new arrangement will bring success remains to be seen. Two additional packs will be released early next year from the two southernmost acclimation pens. There also are plans to release a pair of wolves in the primitive area this winter without first holding the wolves in an acclimation pen, a process called "hard release."

Boyd-Heger said the Mexican gray wolves are at a particular disadvantage for a number of reasons:

* They are captive-bred and do not fear humans.
"Ninety percent of field resources are spent 'fixing' situations due to tameness of wolves--this needs to change," Boyd-Heger said.

* The wolves can easily be mistaken for coyotes, making them vulnerable to accidental shooting.

Boyd-Heger said the open nature of the Southwest ponderosa and juniper forests allows hunters to see hundreds of meters, leaving the wolves far more exposed to gunfire than wolves in Montana and Idaho, where forests are denser.

* And unlike the wolves in the Northern Rockies, which live in or near national parks where hunting is illegal, the Mexican gray wolves have no such sanctuary.

The wolves, Boyd-Heger said, clearly face a very difficult future.
"I do believe there are areas where wolves and people can co-exist," she said. "If the Blue Range is one of them remains to be seen."

But Diane Boyd-Heger won't be around to find out.
She has resigned from the wolf project effective January 15 to take a job with the Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery Project in Helena, Montana.

Boyd-Heger said she is taking the position because "I now have the opportunity to go back home, to better future opportunities and increased pay."

Others familiar with the project believe that disagreements within the reintroduction team may have led her to forsake a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reintroduce the world's rarest wolf subspecies to its native habitat.

Boyd-Heger said there are no internal problems.
"I'm extremely upset and depressed," says Preserve Arizona Wolves' Bobbie Holaday of Boyd-Heger's pending departure. "It's a tragic loss for the project."

Besides her scientific training and tracking skills, Boyd-Heger was respected by residents--even those who strongly oppose wolf reintroduction.

"She is going to be difficult to replace," says Game and Fish spokesman Rory Aikens.

One official noted that Boyd-Heger's new FWS post will double the $25,000 annual salary she receives as a contract employee with Arizona Department of Game and Fish.

That fact that someone with Boyd-Heger's credentials was so poorly paid underscores the lack of financial commitment that Arizona Game and Fish has devoted to the reintroduction project.

Other than law enforcement, the state has two full-time positions assigned to wolf reintroduction. But even that overstates Arizona's commitment.

The federal government, through FWS, pays 75 percent of the state employees' salaries.

Fourth-generation rancher Jim Winder heads for his pickup, stops, and looks around at the vastness of his spread.

"There's not much money in ranching, but you can't beat the office," he says.

Winder is doing everything he can to make the "office" as ecologically healthy as possible, including welcoming endangered species to his land knowing they will complicate his life.

While nearly all ranchers cringe at the thought of an endangered species turning up on their property, Winder wants to reintroduce an endangered fish, the Rio Grande chub, into a creek near the ranch house.

"I'm not going to get paid for it, but I feel I'm creating value for society," he says.

So he welcomes the coyotes, mountain lions, golden eagles, and now the Mexican gray wolf, onto more than 108,000 acres of range land he owns and leases 20 miles south of Hillsboro, New Mexico.

Winder is the type of rancher Secretary of the Interior Babbitt envisions as embracing both the wolf and the cow. Even better, Winder is not waiting for society to reward him. He's creating a market for himself by improving the biodiversity on his ranch.

"We are trying to develop the conservation value of the ranch resources into products and services that I can sell," Winder says over a cup of coffee inside his spacious kitchen.

Winder says ranchers are overreacting to wolf reintroduction.
"If you just sit back and take the emotion out of this, there are simple facts you need to look at," he says. "One thing is the ranchers are not top dogs anymore--economically and politically, our power base has eroded.

"If you keep playing the game like you're the bad apple, and you're not, you're going to get whupped. Now is the time to keep the goodwill that ranchers have with people and the position they have as stewards on the land and evolve that," he says.

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