GLENWOOD, NEW MEXICO
About 200 cattle graze the 28,000 acres of Alan Tackman's postcard-pretty ranch. Most of its grasslands and rocky crags lie within the Gila National Forest, and Tackman often rides his horse through the two grazing allotments he leases from the U.S. Forest Service, checking on his cattle and enjoying the view.
"It's steep, rough country," says Tackman, a burly, genial man with white hair. "I think it's beautiful, but I may be biased."
Every now and then, a calf or cow comes up missing. Harsh weather, injury or mountain lions are the usual suspects, but for the past 15 years, there has been a new one: Mexican gray wolves, reintroduced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1998. Tackman says that over the years three different packs have taken up residence on one of his allotments, and the number of surviving calves there is half that of the wolf-free allotment he leases.
"The only difference is the wolves," says Tackman, who estimates he has lost $20,000 worth of livestock – mostly calves – to the predator. "Wolves and cattle cannot co-exist."
As in other parts of the rural West, the combination of bovines and wild canines has stirred a long-simmering conflict here, deepening antipathy among ranchers, environmentalists and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and impeding the Mexican wolf's recovery in its historic U.S. range. Only 83 or so wolves roam the greater Gila ecosystem – a vast tumble of mountains, canyons and forests in southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona that is largely publicly owned – yet their mere existence has provoked a fierce reaction. Some ranchers and conservative county commissioners periodically demand that the federal wolf program be scrapped, warning that wolves will attack pets and children as well as livestock (though there are no confirmed reports of Mexican wolves attacking humans). Opponents have filed several lawsuits, and more than a few wolves have been illegally shot.