clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

ARE WESTERN POLITICS ON THE WOLVES' SIDE?

The man from the government sounds more sheepish than you'd expect. After all, Dave Parsons is the Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Ask him if wolves will ever be reintroduced into Arizona or New Mexico and he's circumspect: "I'm not sure if it will happen or not. I'd like to think it would happen. There's no real good reason why it couldn't happen."But there is a bad reason.

"Wolves tend to attract politics," says Parsons.

Unfortunately, there are no politicians standing up for the plan to reintroduce the Mexican wolf under the Endangered Species Act. There are, however, a gracious plenty of politicians bad-mouthing that federal law and the intrusion into states' rights they think it represents.

Meanwhile, 137 captive wolves pace their pens. Will they ever split the night with an unfettered howl? Ostensibly, it's up to you.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is gathering public comment on a draft Environmental Impact Statement that sets out plans for reintroducing wolves in Arizona and New Mexico.

Many ranchers adamantly oppose it. The Arizona Cattlegrowers' Association is against reintroduction until a list of criteria are satisfied, says C.B. "Doc" Lane, director of grower affairs. It's questionable whether the concerns could ever be met. In addition to worries about losing cattle, Lane says the association is troubled about the quality of the biology behind the recommendations.

He says that biologists who spend years studying an issue have "ownership in making sure that occurs." Ironically, Lane thinks chances are "pretty good" that wolves will be reintroduced. "Politically, it's a warm and fuzzy idea."

Speaking of ownership of an idea: Wolves were systematically eradicated for ranchers' benefit years ago.

"By the late 1880s the Southwest was one large livestock ranch," writes David E. Brown his book, "The Wolf in the Southwest: The Making of an Endangered Species."

"Powerful political forces were mustered to enlist the aid of the U.S. government in the total removal of this premier livestock predator from Western rangelands and to insure that no reservoir of breeding wolves remained for reinfestation. No refuge for wolves was to be permitted.

"That this has essentially been accomplished does not mean that the livestock interests are to be chastised for their success. No group or organization opposed their singleminded purpose."

Times change. Polls show many people support wolf reintroduction, and evidence suggests the ranchers have little to fear.

Parsons says livestock loss has been negligible in areas where wolves and cattle co-exist. A fund has been set up to compensate ranchers for losses.

The ranchers' case is weak, but their clout is strong and their cause is in vogue. Hank Fischer's book "Wolf Wars" chronicles the story behind the restoration of wolves to Yellowstone National Park. He writes: "The November 1994 elections . . . swept into power . . . a Republican majority whose members included many outspoken critics of endangered species protection. Wolf-bashing became fashionable again."

Just in time to threaten wolf reintroduction efforts in Arizona.

Brown, adjunct professor of zoology at Arizona State University, doesn't think efforts to reintroduce wolves will succeed. At least not now. He says the wolf is too powerful a symbol. On one side, it stands for environmental protection, which is out of political favor, despite what Lane says. On the other side it stands for eco-excess and governmental meddling in local affairs, which are buzz words on many politicians' favorite radio talk show.

Dan Groebner, wolf biologist at the Arizona Game and Fish Department, says animosity toward the government has increased opposition to reintroduction. He says some people have told him they are less afraid of wolves than they are of the increased federal regulation that would accompany any reintroduction.

That fear, like the fear that wolves will carry off all the cattle, is not rational. Wolf reintroduction can be accomplished through local control.

"It doesn't have to be us doing it . . . if some state wants to come forward and take the lead we would welcome that," Parsons said.

Want to add your 2 cents? Attend an open house on the draft Environmental Impact Statement Sept. 9 at the Holiday Inn, 4321 N. Central, Phoenix, AZ. You can stop in anytime between 3 and 8 p.m.