A bronze likeness of the Mexican wolf stands in front of the University of New Mexico's gymnasium in Albuquerque - the lobo is the mascot for the school's sports teams. About the only other place to see the endangered predator today is in the zoo.
But now, after a decade of
environmentalist-rancher-government wrangling over Mexican wolves,
it may be only two years before the real thing roams the
Southwest's woodlands and canyons.
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposal to bring
back the Mexican wolf in southern New Mexico and southeast Arizona.
The federal government trapped the last wolf 35 years ago. The
proposal kicks off what may be a contentious debate, including 14
public hearings, of which 10 will be in the heart of cattle
country. Eventually, 120 wolves would occupy 6,000 square miles in
the two states.
While they have no illusions
about winning rancher support for the wolf, federal officials say
they won't back down on reintroduction unless opponents get a court
order blocking it or Congress guts or stops funding the Endangered
Species Act. At most, only 35 cows will die annually from wolf
attacks, the Fish and Wildlife Service
"We're committed to this plan," said
David Parsons, the head of the agency's Mexican wolf recovery
program. "We believe it's the right thing to do."
One proposed reintroduction site lies in
southern New Mexico's White Sands Missile Range. The other area, in
southeast Arizona's Blue Range, spills into New Mexico's Grant and
Catron counties, where ranchers already have declared war on the
feds over other issues. Several ranchers last month warned they'll
shoot wolves on sight.
"This may be the straw
that breaks the camel's back here," said Zeno Kiehne, whose ranch
depends on public lands along the Arizona-New Mexico border. "I
think people would kill wolves and hope they don't get caught. It
will be another threat to our survival."
Mexican wolf program has been counted dead before. In October 1987,
Michael Spear, then-Southwest regional director for the agency,
told the Albuquerque Tribune that, "The wolf reintroduction
program, as of now, is terminated" because of opposition from White
He soon relented, but four months later, a
White Sands spokesman said, "We consider that (reintroduction) a
dead issue." Around the same time, the chairman of the state Game
and Fish Commission told a national TV interviewer he didn't think
Mexican wolves were smart enough to survive in the
In the early 1990s, an environmental
lawsuit forced the wolf program back on track. Even in southwest
New Mexico, the wolf has some support. Last winter, 400 people
cheered at a Silver City wolf education program sponsored by the
environmental group, Gila Watch.
the National Audubon Society's southwest representative, greeted
the new federal proposal as a vindication, but was concerned that
New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici would try to kill the program by
"We're seeing that in today's
Congress, endangered species aren't treated with a very high level
of respect," Henderson said.
For a copy of the
draft environmental impact statement or to send in comments by Oct.
31, write David R. Parsons, Mexican Wolf Recovery Program, USFWS,
P.O. Box 1306, Albuquerque, NM 87103-1306.
Tony Davis reports
from Albuquerque, New Mexico.