December 11, 2023 | By:

For Asha, Let Nature Take Its Course

Mexican Wolf running

Captive Mexican Wolf at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. (Source: USFW)

In the vast expanse of Southwestern wild places, one lone wolf has captivated the hearts of many — Asha, the dispersing Mexican gray wolf on a journey of epic proportions.

As she roams across the landscapes of Northern New Mexico for the second time, her path not only tells the story of a remarkable individual but also unveils the secrets of critical dispersal corridors that are essential for the survival of her species. Recent observations of Asha’s movements raise questions about the wisdom of intervening in her natural wanderings. As the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contemplate the potential need for human intervention — they’re letting Asha alone for now — it is crucial to consider the broader implications of her journey, not just for her but for the entire ecosystem.

One study on wolf dispersal highlights a corridor spanning around 26 miles, connecting core Mexican gray wolf habitat in the Gila National Forest to suitable habitat in the Jemez Mountains and beyond in southwestern Colorado. This corridor, just over half a mile wide in some areas, stands as a critical pathway for the dispersal of wolves in the region.

The precarious nature of this corridor, or other possible paths delicately following the remnants of forested land cover, underscores the challenges faced by Mexican wolves like Asha. The conversion of vital habitats into cropland exacerbates the already arduous task of crossing the diverse terrains of the Southwest. Not having access to the details of Asha’s GPS collar data, we can only surmise that she may have followed this corridor.

Wherever her exact path has taken, we can be confident that it’s been a dangerous one at times. Crossing Interstate 40, the arbitrary boundary the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has set for lobos, is just one of many challenges she faces. In addition to vehicles moving at lethal speeds, bullets intended for coyotes might find their way to Asha. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Asha’s journey serves as a living testament to the importance of preserving these tenuous corridors and allowing wild wolves (and other animals) to use these corridors in pursuit of suitable core wildlands.

By allowing her to roam freely, the agencies have the opportunity to showcase the significance of such pathways for the recovery of wolf populations not only in Northern New Mexico but potentially in southern Colorado and Utah. Asha, in her quest for a mate, is becoming a pioneer for lobo recovery in these regions. Independent, peer-reviewed scientific studies assert that the recovery of Mexican gray wolves hinges on their access to habitats in the Southern Rocky Mountains and Grand Canyon Ecosystem, both situated north of I-40. Ideal habitats for Mexican wolves extend beyond this geographical boundary, emphasizing the importance of recognizing their inherent need to follow natural corridors and establish sub-populations in additional areas.

As we follow Asha’s trail, let’s celebrate her resilience and acknowledge that sometimes, the best course of action is to let nature take its course. Resisting the urge to intervene in wild animals’ lives is an essential aspect of coexistence, where humans and animals learn to live with each other.

Peacefully accommodating our neighbors of all ilk is the only way we and our hot, hungry, and crowed planet will survive the current crises we face. Contact Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and ask her to rescind New Mexico’s opposition to wolf recovery efforts north of I-40. In doing so, we may find that Asha’s path becomes a beacon for larger rewilding initiatives, emphasizing the critical role of dispersal corridors in the preservation of wildlife and wild places.

This first appeared as an op-ed in the Santa Fe New Mexican.

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