The Mogollon Rendezvous: Scouting The Rim For Proposed Lobo National Scenic Trail
In May, 2 groups rallied in the Mogollon Rim‘s northern section and the Gila Wilderness’s southern portion. Though there were many goals for the scouting expeditions, a core goal was to look at the possibility of designating a “Lobo National Scenic Trail.” Background on the importance of the Mogollon Wildway is covered on our Mogollon page.
In the video and field reports below, learn about what was accomplished on the “Mogollon Rendezvous” North and South.
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Field Report: Renee Seacor, Carnivore Conservation Manager, Project Coyote
In May, a group of eleven of us trekked over thirteen miles back to a remote location In the heart of the Gila Wilderness—the same location where the first releases of Mexican wolves into the Gila occurred in March of 2000. Twenty-three years later, the site still holds a little bit of magic in the air. Dave Parsons who served as the original coordinator of Mexican gray wolf recovery for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was there to describe the day he heard one of the first Lobos chew their way out of the release site and howl into the Gila Wilderness as she reclaimed her ancestral home and ran free into the Gila.
Much has happened since the original releases into the wild. The population of Mexican gray wolves in the wild reached 241 last year. And while advocates celebrated this momentous milestone, they also warned that, with Lobos, it is not just the total numbers that matter. There are still major threats to the population, including the leading cause of mortality: human poaching. The genetic diversity of the wild population still needs improvement as well.
There are also indicators that Lobos need more room to roam beyond the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area, which currently restricts the population to below the I-40 Interstate corridor. Just this past year, Asha, a courageous young female wolf, traveled north of that artificial boundary line and wandered north near Taos, New Mexico. But we were quickly reminded that Lobos aren’t entirely free yet. Shortly after her venture north of I-40, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish captured Asha and placed her in captivity, reminding advocates that our work is far from done and leading to us renewing calls for removing artificial boundary lines that currently restrict Lobos movement. Asha was thankfully returned to the wild in Arizona months later, but our hope is future Lobos get to live truly wild, autonomous lives free from human control.
Asha’a story and the Gila trek remind us how far we’ve come and, at the same time, how far we’ve got to go. The vision of a rewilded North American landscape is the ultimate goal: a large, interconnected landscape where our largest roaming species can survive and thrive in the wild, moving into new, suitable habitats. That vision feels possible in the heart of the Gila wilderness, and Lobos serve as an emblem of rewilding.
The Gila renewed our passion for advocating for Lobos to remain truly wild and free.
Field Report: Luke Koenig, Volunteer Coordinator, Wild Arizona
Mogollon Rim Near Pine, AZ
It was raining hard when I drove through Springerville en route to the Coconino National Forest from my home in Silver City, New Mexico. It was mid-May, and I was on my way to secure a camp for this year’s Rendezvous on Rim: a gathering, in-person for the first time in a while, of friends and colleagues working on rewilding efforts for the Mogollon Rim region. I had been invited by my boss, Kelly Burke, executive director of Wild Arizona and cofounder of Grand Canyon Wildlands Council. I was brought on ostensibly to help set up camp and handle some of the logistics, like cooking dinner, buying beer, and scouting out some hikes for the group. It would be easy for me, since I practically camp full time in the rim region while hosting events for my job as Wild Arizona’s volunteer coordinator.
But there was an ulterior motive. By inviting me to help out, Kelly was effectively introducing me to some of the most central figures in Mogollon Rim conservation today. Rewilding Institute Executive Director John Davis, Mexican gray wolf champion Craig Miller, and ecologist Larry Stevens, were all to be in attendance. These were friends and colleagues of the late Kim Crumbo and the late Dave Foreman—legends in southwest conservation, whose names I first heard years ago, and states away, when I was taking my first steps toward a career in conservation.
Around the time of the rendezvous, I was reading Roderick Nash’s Wilderness and the American Mind for the first time. A seminal book on the history of wilderness and an inspiration to defenders of wild places the world over, it was sobering to know that some of the folks here for the gathering were headed next to spread the ashes of Dave Foreman, who’s name and endorsement appeared on the back cover.
The first to arrive was Jack Humphrey, another name I knew as the host of the Rewilding Earth Podcast. He pulled up on his dual sport, and I was embarrassed to inform him I hadn’t yet filled the coolers with beer. As we talked and waited for the others to arrive, it turned out we had much in common. After a couple beers (Jack had sent me on a mission to get some), and getting to know everyone one by one as they arrived, the little bit of nervousness I had felt ahead of the gathering completely dissipated.
These were the people at the heart of the conservation work, that, in reality, I still am only taking my first steps toward. But they couldn’t have been more welcoming. And when sharing stories around the campfire, and it came to be my turn, they listened to what I had to say with interest and respect, as I fumbled my words explaining what I, a twenty-something with just a couple years of real experience—surrounded by demonstrated leaders—thought we could do to better protect these places we love. And perhaps that’s why these people are who they are. Because they know how to listen, with their ears and their hearts, and take seriously the often muddled calls for a more wild earth, be it the voice of a young conservationist, or better yet the howl of a wolf.
We huddled at camp, stood on the edge of the rim, investigated the most pristine and beautiful spring I’ve ever seen, and hatched plans for next steps in conservation efforts, including a federally protected trail across the length of the Mogollon Rim—the “Lobo Trail,” which would follow the literal footsteps of the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf across its former range, from the Gila to the Grand Canyon.
It never did rain again. Jack bought the beer. And really, Lynne Westerfield did all the (amazing) cooking. But I secured a muddy campsite in the heart of the Mogollon Rim—one of the most significant, biodiverse, and vulnerable bioregions on the continent. And I listened, as its champions sat around the fire and discussed what could be done to protect it. And watched, as occasionally, as the youngest person there, someone glanced at me.
Like always on my drives home from rim country, Escudilla mountain hung in the distance, and like always, put me in my place in the context of this landscape and the long, indeterminate history of its conservation. But this time, I headed home a bit more energized than usual. And dare I say, a bit more rewilded myself. But hey, I guess that’s what these people do.
Field Report: Dave Parsons, Carnivore Conservation Advisor and Board Member of the Rewilding Institute
Aldo Leopold began his first assignment as a forester for the U.S. Forest Service in the vast forests of the Southwest in 1909.
In a 1921 essay in the Journal of Forestry focused on outdoor recreation, Aldo Leopold pondered the conflict between preservation and use. In particular, he challenged Gifford Pinchot’s “highest use” forest management doctrine which called for “the greatest good to the greatest number.”
Popularity of the automobile in early 1920s caused Leopold to worry about the increasing demand for roads throughout formerly inaccessible parts of the West. Leopold raises the question of “whether the principle of highest use does not itself demand that representative portions of some forests be preserved as wilderness.”
By “wilderness” Leopold says, “I mean a continuous stretch of country preserved in its natural state, open to lawful hunting and fishing, big enough to absorb a two weeks’ pack trip, and kept devoid of roads, artificial trails, cottages, or other works of man.”
Leopold describes the Southwest is a “distinct region…It has a high and varied recreational value…A good big sample of it should be preserved…by selecting such an area as the headwaters of the Gila River on the Gila National Forest. […] It is the last typical wilderness in the southwestern mountains. Highest use demands its preservation.” Leopold wisely espoused that it would be much easier to preserve large wilderness areas through “forethought” as opposed to recreating them after they are gone.
Two and a half years after penning this essay, Leopold convinced the U.S. Forest Service to establish the first officially designated and protected wilderness area in North America—the Gila Wilderness—on June 3, 1923, slightly over 99 years ago!
During the last week of May 2023, 11 intrepid backpackers affiliated with The Rewilding Institute took full advantage of Leopold’s vision and enjoyed a 7-day backpack into the heart of the Gila Wilderness. Special experiences included a visit to the remote site where the first 4 Mexican gray wolves were released back to the Gila Wilderness in March of 2000. “Papoose board” scars, carved from still living Ponderosa pine trees 150 years ago by Apache natives attempting to avoid the calvary, were observed near the edge of a meadow named Lilley Park.
Several of our fallen wilderness advocates and ecological conservation heroes were acknowledged and honored in a special ceremony on McKenna Park—a ~6,000 acre plateau 1,000 feet above the West Fork of the Gila River farther from an established road than any place in New Mexico. It is one of the most pristine examples of old growth Ponderosa pine parkland, maintained by high-frequency, low-intensity ground fires on Nature’s terms. The lupines were blooming in great profusion.
Thank you, Aldo Leopold!
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Director of Digital Outreach (D.O.D.O.) for The Rewilding Institute
Host and Producer of the Rewilding Earth Podcast
Jack started Rewilding work as Executive Director of Sky Island Alliance in the mid-1990’s, organizing the Sky Island Wildlands Network design, ripping up illegal roads on forest service lands, installing wolf acclimatization pens on Ted Turner’s Ladder Ranch & conducting howling surveys to help make way for the final stage of the Lobo reintroduction program in the Southwest.
Through the years, Jack has worked with Dave Foreman and the Rewilding Gang to further Rewilding initiatives and education.