Longform

Wildlife Disservice

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Defenders of Wildlife also conducts a public education campaign designed to dispel myths that wolves are a serious threat to human safety. No documentation exists of Mexican gray wolf attacks on humans.

"The chances of somebody being attacked by a wolf are so exceedingly low to not even be considered," Ferris says. "More people are killed each year by vending machines when they try to get their change back." Four died last year, he says.

Defenders' financial pledges and education efforts have been largely ineffectual.

Few mountain residents are in any mood to compromise. Taking a hard line against reintroduction has been successful. The program has foundered, with more than half the wolves shot or missing in less than a year.

"Every time we have tried to compromise with that side of aisle, we have been screwed, bruised and blued," says the farm bureau's Ness. "You can't compromise with people you can't trust."

Ferris is willing to extend the olive branch, but acknowledges there is little chance that discussions with wolf foes will be fruitful.

"Clearly, we are on different planets as far as we see this reality," says Ferris.

The shooting began less than a month after the chain-link acclimation pens were opened, freeing 11 wolves in three separate packs.

The smallest pack, the two-member Turkey Creek pack, was located farthest from Alpine--nearly 50 miles south--in a relatively dry juniper forest riven by canyons.

Cows, dogs and humans--the three things biologists wanted the wolves to avoid--were everywhere the wolves turned.

Two days prior to the release, wolf officials notified the U.S. Forest Service that two cows were within one mile of the wolf release site--an area off-limits to the public and ranchers. The wolf team asked the Forest Service to contact the owner to remove the cows.

But the cows remained, and on April 5 one of them had a calf. The Forest Service was again notified, but it took two days before the rancher arrived, and by then, the calf was missing. The calf was later found unharmed. It's uncertain whether the wolves ever encountered the cows, but neither the rancher nor the Forest Service seemed eager to protect the cattle.

A few days later, the Turkey Creek wolves showed up near a group of about 30 lion hunters and their dogs; the encampment had been set up about two miles from the wolves' release pen.

Press accounts report that the hunters left scrap food near the camp and that the scavenging wolves were coming close to humans. One hunter claimed he threw food scraps at the wolves, thinking they might be hungry.

Wolf reintroduction team personnel used fireworks to scare the wolves away.
The Turkey Creek wolves' next encounter with humans did not end well.
According to FWS, Tucson camper Richard Humphrey heard "thrashing and yipping" in the brush about 50 yards west of his campsite on the morning of April 28. The camp was located within one mile of the wolves' release site, but by then the closure had been lifted.

Humphrey determined wolves were fighting with one of his two dogs. When Humphrey went to investigate, the female wolf fled. But the male started moving toward the campsite, prompting the camper to shoot it from about 50 feet, FWS spokesman Hans Stuart says.

The wolf would have bled to death from the first shot, Stuart says, but the camper then got close to the wolf and shot it again "to put it out of its misery."

FWS cleared Humphrey of wrongdoing. Under the Endangered Species Act, a wolf may be killed only if it endangers human life. Ranchers are also allowed to kill a wolf if it attacks cattle on private property, but not on public land. Prosecution could bring a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison.

Wolf-advocacy groups howled over the FWS decision to clear Humphrey.
"It's a travesty," says wolf researcher Tom Beno.
Wolf advocates say a necropsy showed the wolf was standing still and turned away from Humphrey--not attacking--at the time it was shot. The first bullet fired by Humphrey with a scoped .243-caliber rifle pierced both of the wolf's hind legs just above the knees.

"The wolf would have to be standing with both feet together directly broadside to the shooter to obtain this alignment of the wounds," says Richard Stroud, veterinary medical examiner for the federal government's National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty