A new federal plan managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service proposes to extend the Endangered Species Act protections to an estimated 75 Mexican wolves in the states of New Mexico and Arizona. Protections would make it illegal to kill the wolves in most instances and increase their habitat range. This new plan would expand upon protections from the first Mexican Wolf Recovery Program first instated in 1982. The plan is expected to be finalized at the end of this year.
Small communities in New Mexico and Arizona are fighting back against a US government plan to increase habitat and reduce the killing of Mexican wolves in the southwest. There is great fear in local communities about wolf attacks and feel the federal government is walking on their rights. Anti-wolf campaigns paid by conservative political groups have caused a lot of the hype claiming protections are examples of the government stretching too far into peoples lives.
Defenders of the wolves state there is no record of wolf attacks in New Mexico or Arizona. They feel that the fear is overblown, and scoff at communities building “kid cages” to protect schoolchildren from wolves while waiting for the bus in the morning.
Mexican wolves themselves are more at risk than children or the members of these communities where they might roam. Mexican wolves, a subspecies of the grey wolf, were first put on the Endangered Species Act in 1976, three years after the bill’s passage. They are threated by habitat destruction from ranches and urban sprawl. Illegal killings of the wolves also reduced their numbers to seven individuals. It was not until 1998, that the first of the species was reintroduced into the wild. These captive raised wolves were reintroduced in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. Yet, recent killings have been a cause of concern for those that protect them. A young male was fatally shot with an arrow a few weeks ago in Catron County, New Mexico, where “kid cages” are used.
Political campaigns have been held around the debate over Mexican wolf protection. On Oct. 4, 2013, a public hearing was postponed due to the government shutdown, but advocates came out anyway. Save the Lobo rally, paid for by Defenders of Wildlife occupied a meeting room while an anti-wolf event sponsored by Americans for Prosperity who are funded by the Koch brothers happened down the hall. They each offered their own views on the issue.
The Americans for Prosperity event focused on the safety and political issues centering around the wolves. They had armed guard at their discussion made necessary by death threats from environmental groups. They talked about the “kid cages”, whose origins and funding are unclear. It is also unknown how many of them there are. Some residences feel they are not enough and have claimed that wolves have gone after their children in the past. Other community members are worried about their cabins in the area.
According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, Mexican wolves rarely target humans. Past records state that there have only been two to three attacks in the last decade in Canada and Alaska where there are thousands of grey wolves. Grey wolves are much larger than the Mexican wolf. Advocates claim based on this information that the fear of the communities have been exaggerated for cynical reasons.
Also, attacks on livestock are also much less common that we believe. The National Agricultural Statistics Service state that on third of sheep deaths nationwide are linked to predation. Only 0.4% of that is linked to wolf attacks. Domestic dogs are responsible for 20 times that. Statistics for cattle are also similar. Wolf kills rank behind coyotes, domestic dog, puma and vultures which have history of attacking calves. Any rancher that is affected in this way is compensated with proof of death. Although, ranchers claim that the government program that provides the reimbursement pays under market value. Many ranchers blame the government and the wolves for their economic troubles as a result.
In the end of all of this, the wolf debate is more than a just an issue between scared people and environmentalists. It is a political battle. Environmental groups feel that it shows the economic decline in rural lifestyle. Therefore, people show their fear and want to retaliate against the government. Opposing views state that the government is again overreaching their boundaries. They view the wolf as a beginning symbol of grievances to do with the current government dealing with everything from tax problems to state rights. Overall, the debate itself does seem more than just about the animal especially at the local level.