Wolfing Down Beef

A Mexican gray wolf pack learns to kill cattle and loses its freedom

Miller told Cathcart that he would not be paying for the dead cows. But, he says, he did offer to pay for electric fencing to keep the wolves out or for a ranch hand to help Cathcart move the livestock south and away from the area to minimize conflict with the wolves.

"Moving them south would have brought him into compliance with the [Forest] Service and into an area that was more compatible for his livestock," Miller says. "And he refused."

Modern ranchers have more sophisticated ways of dealing with predators than the usual method of dropping off the cows in the spring and picking them up in the fall, "expecting the Forest Service to baby-sit them in the interim," as Miller puts it. That technique worked just fine after wolves were eradicated from Arizona early in the 1900s. Miller hoped to convert Cathcart.

After the third depredation, the Fish and Wildlife Service realized it had no choice but to move the wolf pack.

"We feared this was only going to continue to happen," Brown says.

By disturbing the wolves from their resting places and by seeding the route with road-kill carcasses and other wolf delicacies (besides beef), wildlife biologists managed to "bump" the pack several miles toward the New Mexico border.

"They were good for several months," says Game and Fish's Val Asher. But in December they took another rancher's cow and a bull, variably estimated at 900 or 1,500 pounds -- either way a large enough animal to indicate that the pack had become very good at killing cattle. Fish and Wildlife decided to remove them altogether.

"Right or wrong, these wolves have figured out how to kill cattle very efficiently," says Brown. "And if you leave them in an area where cattle are abundant, they're going to continue to do it."

The naughty wolves may be broken up and set free with other future wolf packs. The alpha male will never be rereleased.

Craig Miller says that this is how it must be. "You don't want them passing those traits on to younger wolves," he says.

Michael Robinson at the Center for Biological Diversity does not agree. "What we want to do is get that pack of wolves back into the wild where there are no cattle and give them a second chance," he says.

Contact Michael Kiefer at his online address: michael.kiefer@newtimes.com

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