#13 Around the Campfire; The First Wolf Extermination Crusade

You find yourself in a conservation fight where the other side’s stock in trade is irrational fear-mongering and a pickup load of hoop-snake myths and then it hits you— haven’t we been here before?  Haven’t we already fought this battle and won?  In the case of wolf recovery in the U.S. West, this is the third go ‘round in a century. Each time so far we’ve come out more or less on top because of our better knowledge from field research and because of the strength that love of wild Nature gives us. Wolf haters have attacked wolves with Dark-Ages fairytales, fear of the unknown, prescientific, stubborn insistence that “real” folks know more than scientists, and with greedy, I-want-it-all, macho-hunter selfishness.  Mix in a smirking cruelty and you have our foes.

In 2007, we conservationists find ourselves once again facing the mad haters of the wild as we try to keep wolf recovery efforts from being lynched in the Northern Rockies and in the Blue-Gila country of New Mexico and Arizona. Whether we come out on top in this knockdown fight is up in the air.  But we have no choice but to win.  Lose now and the vision of linked populations of wolves from Mexico to Canada goes up in smoke for a long time.

The second tussle for both northern and southern wolf recovery projects happened some ten years ago when high-minded conservationists and hunters joined farsighted politicians and honorable, visionary wildlife managers in various agencies to expertly release wolves into their former wild homelands.  Gray wolves prospered beyond expectations in the Northern Rockies; lobos would have done well and increased in the Southwest except for the lack of a vast cow-free refuge like Yellowstone, and because of intransigent, nineteenth-century stockmen.  Cowed bureaucrats with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and Arizona and New Mexico game agencies dared not stand bravely for the wolves for which they had a responsibility; truth be told, some of them would be glad to be rid of the wolf “problem.”  (Of course there are noble exceptions in all these agencies!)

After the best government biologists did the tough work of getting lobos on the ground, they were shoved aside by higher-ups, and easily spooked little fellows replaced them.  These poor bureaucrats, shoved between a rock and a hard place, took unrelenting heat from political commissars sent down from the White House to ensure they didn’t do their jobs, and from big-talking, bullying gunmen of Catron and Apache counties, who have the hard-eyed stare down (from countless boyhood days in front of their sisters’ mirrors).  Nonetheless, the earlier group of biologists and conservationists had successfully gotten packs on the ground, and they inspired folks from all over the land with a new, positive view of the land and how we could make things better.  Wherever queried, Americans like wolves.  Indeed, in Yellowstone National Park, wolves have edged out the mighty geysers on many tourist itineraries.

I mentioned three battles to let wolves and their carnivore kin live in the wild—to be wild things in wild places.  What of the first struggle?

Well, let me tell you about it. The twentieth century had barely . . .

Please click on the attachment below to read the entire “Campfire.”

 

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