MICHAEL KIEFERSTANCES WITH WOLVESFORMER ECO-TERRORIST DAVE FOREMAN UNLEASHES A PLAN TO LET LOBOS LOOSE IN THE WILDERNESS
One night in Minnesota, Dave Foreman woke up in his tent to a wolf howl, a desperate, aching sound that freezes time and makes domestic dogs try to hide under beds.
At first, he thought it was the wind as he sat up in his sleeping bag. Then, when the hair went up on the back of his neck, he realized it was a wolf. "It was an incredible thrill," he says.
He saw a wolf once in Alaska, he says, "at a considerable distance, and I watched it through binoculars for about a half-mile." In the wild, wolves are so shy of humans that one rarely sees more than a gray tail disappearing into the brush out of the corner of an eye, or a distant speck across a frozen lake.
Foreman, the rangy, twangy co-founder of the radical environmental group Earth First!, has never seen a wolf in Arizona. Except for a few stragglers that wander north from Mexico, they have been gone for more than 40 years.
Historically, Mexican wolves--a subspecies of the larger northern gray wolf--ranged the high grasslands and higher forests of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and northern Mexico, until, at the beginning of this century, the federal government wiped them out at the behest of the livestock industries. The last documented killing of Mexican wolves in the Southwestern United States took place in 1970, though most of them had been long gone by the 1950s.
No sooner had the feds killed off the Mexican wolf than they decided that they should put it back. The Mexican wolf was listed as an endangered species in 1976. Six years later, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service drafted its Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan. According to its current schedule, wildlife managers will release zoo-bred specimens back into some of the higher elevations of Arizona and New Mexico within the next two years--which has raised a stink in rural cattle communities, as much for fear of environmentalists as of livestock depredation. Foreman, of course, is a rancher's worst nightmare. Whereas the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the main agencies charged with the wolf-recovery plan, expect to keep the released wolf populations within strictly defined boundaries, Foreman envisions a wider range--in fact, several populations scattered over Southwestern wilderness areas. And each wilderness area would be connected to the others by wildlife corridors that would ensure the genetic viability of the wolf and other predators.
"The fabled wolves of Isle Royale, Michigan, and the Boundary Waters in Minnesota lasted until today because they, too, were directly connected to an unbroken tribe of wolves stretching to the Arctic," he says.
Foreman's wolf plans fit into a larger scheme he calls the "Wildlands Project," a rethinking of wilderness areas in all of North America. Historically, such areas were set aside for their scenic value; now they are looked upon as the last depositories of biological diversity. Foreman stands at the forefront of this new field of conservation biology. Legislators are taking note. And despite Foreman's radical credentials, the passage of time, the inevitable slouch into middle age has rendered him respectable even in the eyes of the field biologists and managers of the state and federal land and wildlife agencies.
"We're not crazed radicals with AK-47 rounds on our chests," says Rod Mondt, program coordinator for the Wildlands Project. "I think people are starting to see that we're soundly based in science."
Foreman has not yet gone so far as to share his wolf vision with the Arizona Game and Fish Department or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He says he's not ready. One wonders whether they are ready for Foreman.
@body:"The wolf is as good a symbol for wilderness as anything," Foreman says, speaking in the abstract from across a conference table in an office park in Tucson. Seating the godfather of monkeywrenching at a conference table seems an abstraction in itself.
Wilderness, he explains, is a concept that is alternately alluring and terrifying. As the pioneers carved their way west from Plymouth Rock, the wilderness was the limit of civilization, a horrible place of frightening beauty that needed to be domesticated. The word comes from the Old English, meaning a place of wild beasts, but it has lost that connotation.
Like the wilderness itself, wolves have a yin and yang nature, characteristics that are both alluring and repulsive. They are monogamous, heroically loyal to their young and their pack. Male wolves even share in child rearing. They so closely resemble man's best friend as to look cuddly.
But they are also efficient and vicious predators. Wolves kill with the precision and teamwork of an Israeli SWAT team, one wolf crippling the haunches of its prey, the others taking it down.
When prey is plentiful, they are choosy about what they eat. "I watched from an airplane in Wisconsin as a pack of six wolves walked right through the middle of a cow pasture with calves present," says Dan Groebner, a newly hired wolf biologist with Arizona Game and Fish. "There's no question they could have had a calf down in no time at all. But they either didn't recognize it as prey or they weren't hungry."
More often than not, they go hungry. They don't catch everything they chase, so they become as opportunistic as a dog alone in the kitchen on Thanksgiving. They have been known to take several calves per night from a herd of cows, eat what they want and leave the rest for the coyotes. They can take a cow about to give birth and eat the fetus right out of her and leave her to die. And in the Southwest, killing cattle was their undoing.
@body:The Mexican wolf was eradicated with the single-mindedness of purpose that scientists brought to wiping out smallpox and polio. "The rhetoric of the wolf-control program is chillingly similar to Hitler's 'final solution' for the Jews," Dave Foreman wrote in his 1991 book Confessions of an Eco-Warrior.
In the 1940s, biologists identified five separate wolf species in the Southwest, which more recent classifiers have combined as one, Canis lupus baileyi. The turn-of-the-century locals just called it a lobo wolf. What's known about it is highly speculative. The notion of studying wildlife in its habitat dates only to the 1950s; the Mexican wolf was gone by then, and all that remains are observations of a hunted and harried population culled mostly from reports of the men who trapped it.
At two and a half feet tall at the shoulder, five feet long and 70 to 90 pounds, they are smaller than timber wolves, though not as small as the Eastern red wolf. They range in color from black to tawny brown.
Before the 19th-century settlers moved into the wolves' range--the wooded areas and grasslands from the New Mexico bootheel to just south of Flagstaff--the carnivores preyed mostly on deer. But as the settlers decimated the deer and other game populations for their own subsistence, the wolves turned increasingly to preying on livestock.
In the 1890s, as detailed by David E. Brown in his book The Wolf in the Southwest, a terrible drought struck this part of the country. Cattle died in droves, and the wolf population gorged and prospered on the carrion. When the livestock industry recovered, the wolf problem was more serious than ever. There were more of them, and they had a taste for beef.
State and federal governments as well as ranchers hired full-time trappers and paid bounties for large predators--bears, lions and coyotes--as well as wolves. As Foreman has written, "A wolf you saw was a wolf you shot." Or followed to its den to kill its young. Or trapped. Or, mostly, poisoned.
Because wolves, like most canids, are creatures of habit, trappers were able to track their routines and anticipate where to find them. Wolves are fussy about their feet; they cover ranges of 40 to 70 miles, but always follow the same paths of least resistance over roads and cow paths and "wolf runs" they trod into the landscape, smooth paths like those a fenced dog might pace into the backyard grass. So trappers knew where the wolves would be, and had a good idea of when. They would lead an old horse to the wolf run, shoot it, then quickly inject it with poison, so that it would pump through the horse's bloodstream. The wolves would find the carcass, eat it and die themselves.
Wolf hunters killed hundreds of wolves per year, until, by the 1930s, the only wolves in Arizona and New Mexico were those that wandered north over the Mexican border. The trappers took up posts, like a Border Patrol for predators; politicians even suggested building a wolfproof fence along the border to keep out lupine interlopers.
The last confirmed shooting of a wolf in Arizona took place in 1966; the last in New Mexico were shot in 1970. And though the Fish and Wildlife Service had listed the Mexican wolf as an endangered species in the mid-1970s, David E. Brown wrote in The Wolf in the Southwest that ranchers near Aravaipa Canyon in Arizona quietly hired a professional hunter to track and shoot a lone wolf preying on their herds. The wolf was killed--and endangered-species protection be damned.
That may not have been the last lone wolf to sneak into Arizona, however.
@body:On October 23, 1992, Laura White Dupee, a range conservation officer with the Forest Service in Coronado National Forest, was walking through the rolling oak woodlands south of Patagonia, near the Mexican border.
It was an overcast, drizzly day, and Dupee was heading down a steep hill toward her truck. "I saw some animals out of the corner of my eye, and they were so large, I thought they were deer," she says.
Three wolves trotted out of the brush, a half-grown pup followed by two adults, that, given their relative sizes, Dupee took to be a mated male and female. They had the blunted noses and rounded ears of Mexican wolves, but were larger than the ones she had seen at the zoo.
There was no breeze that day, so the wolves didn't notice her. She wanted to whistle to get their attention, as you might a deer, to make them stop and look at her a moment.
"I couldn't get anything out because my mouth was so dry," she remembers, "but they heard me, anyway, and perked their ears up for a few seconds. Then they startled and they trotted off."
She felt sure they were wolves. "I didn't do blood tests on them," she says. And though Forest Service biologists later found tracks nearby, they could not confirm that they had been made by wolves.
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."
Though Holaday earnestly solicits the opinions of the folks who live near the potential release sites, she clearly loses patience with the clichs spouted by ranchers with made-up minds.
"We live with lions and bears," Holaday goes on, "and they are far more dangerous to livestock, children and pets. And yet the wolf has been the devil, the evil creature. The ranchers feel they've got a God-given right to all of this land and everything in their way; whether it's lions, wolves or spotted owls, they want it out of there."
There are ranchers who are not afraid of wolves. Rukin Jelks, who runs cattle in Elgin, near the Mexico border, thinks that the presence of predators makes the cattle herd together, which makes it easier to keep track of them. "When we started out, we were controlled by predators," he says. "The buffalo was controlled by predators. All herding animals were controlled by predators. We have domesticated our cattle to the point where they don't even recognize a problem, even other humans coming in to take them."
For the most part, like all complex environmental arguments, the debate is reduced to slogans that fit on bumper stickers: "Wolves Not Cows" or "Cows or Condos." The latter is meant as the rancher's threat to sell out to development and turn the wide-open Western spaces into suburbs.
Dave Foreman answers that by pointing out, "A cow-burned area is going to have fewer birds than a properly done subdivision."
If the ranchers are inflexible, at least the Fish and Wildlife Service has the political good sense to compromise. As a concession to the livestock industry, the wolves that may eventually be released will be designated a "nonessential, experimental population." This means that they can be shot if caught taking down sheep or cattle, that they can be harassed away from herds, that they can be removed from the area if they misbehave. It means that even though they are listed as an endangered species, they will not have full protection under the Endangered Species Act.
"You know," Foreman drawls, "the greatest danger to the wolves once they are reintroduced is good ol' boys cruisin' around in a pickup truck."
@body:Dave Foreman spread his first draft of a Southwestern "vision map" on the conference-room table. His colleague Rod Mondt, a roly-poly man with a big, black beard, is as talkative as Foreman is laconic:
"If you release a wolf today in the Blue Range, he could be in Santa Fe tomorrow," Mondt says. Wolves have been known to travel as much as 100 miles in a day. Radio-collared wolves from Montana have been tracked as far as the Yukon. The Fish and Wildlife Service has ceded as "wolf recovery areas" more than 7,000 square miles of national forest land surrounding the Blue Range and more than 3,000 square miles in the White Sands Missile Range. Foreman and Mondt and the biologists they work with think that is still not enough.
"When the wolves stray outside of the area, [the agencies] intend to hook em and book em and bring em back," Mondt says. "And if they continue to do what we consider to be normal wolflike activities, they are going to take them out of the released population and put them back into captivity."
Rather than keep the wolves in isolated islands of habitat, where they risk genetic stagnation from inbreeding, Foreman and Mondt want to find a way for the wolves to travel from one reintroduced population to another, and from reintroduced populations to those wolves that may already be wandering up from Mexico.
"How do we connect the Sierra Madre and the Mogollon Rim? How do we tie the Mogollon Rim to the southern Rockies? How do we hook the southern Rockies to the northern Rockies and then on to Alaska? How do we do it to the Appalachians?"
The map in front of him is a hand-drawn chaos of red- and green-colored ink. The Blue Range and the Gila National Forest are enclosed in red: these he would like to see as a core wilderness, and at the center would be areas restricted from human use so as to keep them in as natural a state as possible. Fanning out from the center would be various buffer zones in which human activities such as hunting and backpacking would be permitted.
Green lines on the map snake out in all directions from the core wilderness--corridors that would be relatively free of development, so that wildlife could pass on to other core areas. One such corridor follows the Salt River across the Fort Apache Indian Reservation to another core wilderness circling Phoenix from the Superstition Mountains north to the Mazatzal Wilderness. From there, yet more corridors wind northward toward Utah and the Grand Canyon.
To draw his map, Foreman studied maps of roadless areas, landownership maps and wilderness areas to try to find paths of least resistance, routes relatively unencumbered by private land ownership.
"Most conservation groups fight brush fires," he says. They appeal each timber sale as it comes, each open-pit mine. They lobby for one species at a time. With the Wildlands Project, Foreman wants to set priorities, to say beforehand, you can have that for development while we keep this for biodiversity.
"Our thought is to have one group step away from the brush fire and start to think about the future a bit," Foreman says.
Foreman first unveiled the Wildlands Project in late 1992 with a special issue of his journal Wild Earth. The preamble featured classic Foreman rhetoric:
"You hold in your hands, I sincerely believe, one of the most important documents in conservation history; indeed one of the most important documents in the last five hundred years," he wrote. "Our vision is simple: we live for the day when Grizzlies in Chihuahua have an unbroken connection to Grizzlies in Alaska; when Gray Wolf populations are continuous from New Mexico to Greenland; when vast unbroken forests and flowing plains again thrive and support pre-Columbian populations of plants and animals; when humans dwell with respect, harmony, and affection for the land; when we live no longer as strangers and aliens on this continent."
Whew! Foreman laughs with good-natured frustration when he is told that he comes across a lot more strident in print than he does in person. "I have to live with that every day," he says. Stridency was a misperception that dogged Earth First!, which Foreman intended to be a lighter side to an environmental community increasingly dominated by besuited D.C. lawyers and dour enviro-dweebs wearing socks and sandals. "If you go back and look at the old Earth First! Journal and ignore the high-flown rhetoric, the civil disobedience, the monkeywrenching and all that," he says, "you can trace the development of conservation biology. The first thing we did in 1980, when we founded Earth First!, was to develop a grandiose wilderness proposal for the United States."
It was unsophisticated, he admits, but it attracted attention.
So, too, is the Wildlands Project turning heads. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt is said to have read it. Congress is currently considering a bill titled the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act that intends to establish core wildernesses in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming, connected by wildlife corridors. Whether it passes or not, the concept is out there in front of legislators.
Foreman does not expect to develop his own lobby for the Wildlands Project. Instead, he has waged a low-key campaign for the hearts and minds of scientists and land-management agencies. Last June, the Society for Conservation Biology held a Wildlands Project symposium during its annual meeting. Foreman counts among his ardent supporters and advisers such eminent conservation biologists as Michael Soul of the University of California at Santa Cruz and Reed Noss, editor of the journal Conservation Biology. He has been collaborating with Round River Conservation Studies, a Santa Fe-based educational organization that sends students into the field not only to study habitat, but also to educate the local populace in the areas where they have field projects.
But all is not agreement and harmony in the realm of land management. As might be expected, before his proposal has even been completed, Foreman has already drawn flak and skepticism. "It's a whole new socialist way of doing business," scoffs Dennis Parker, a contract biologist for southern Arizona cattle interests. "Mr. Foreman is not a resource manager or a biologist. I find it amazing that someone who is not a professional is afforded this much attention. More importantly, who makes the resource decisions, environmentalists or resource managers?"
Other biologists like the concept, but characterize it as pie-in-the-sky idealism, not Earth-saving necessity. Dr. L. David Mech of the new National Biological Survey, the world's foremost wolf biologist, says, "As an ideal construct, it's wonderful, but I don't think it's practical. To the extent we can reach for it, I'm for it."
He goes on to say that wolves can subsist almost anywhere. In the absence of wild prey, they will eat livestock, backyard garbage or your family cat. And that's when people reach for the shotgun. What Mech really thinks wolves need more than natural habitat is legal protection.
If conservation biologists are conversant with the theory of the Wildlands Project, the agency people are not. Perhaps this is a public relations gaffe on Foreman's part, perhaps an arrogant oversight. Or perhaps the agency folks don't read the literature. The Fish and Wildlife program head and the field workers with Arizona Game and Fish had only heard about it. And though they didn't bother to track it down, most are not resistant.
David Belitsky of Arizona Game and Fish sums it up by saying, "It would be a foolish wildlife-agency person to say that this or that particular interest group could not provide us support."
@body:The Phoenix Zoo's two resident Mexican wolves sit as patiently as fireplace dogs, stretched out in the shade of their compound, noses between paws. They resemble Siberian huskies, only in Technicolor. The female is tawny gold, with grizzled, gray patches on her fur; the male is wildly speckled in gray and white. They seem unconcerned by the milling zoo crowds, and about the only hint of wildness in their demeanor is a palpable edginess and a glow of yellow eyes. The grass around them is scarred with the footpath they've paced into it, like an instinctual memory of the wolf runs their ancestors beat into the forests.
"They're certainly not wild," says their keeper, Terri Volk. "They haven't been trained by their parents to hunt, and they haven't learned an area like an animal would if raised in it."
These animals will never be wild; both were born at zoos in New Mexico. Their parents were not even wild. But if they mate this winter and give birth, their pups will be nearly wild; radio-collared and immunized, but free.
And then, if all goes as planned, the next generation of pups will truly, truly be wild.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.