By early February, Bird and Horning had put most of the money to pay Tackman in an escrow account. But another snag had emerged: Glenwood District Ranger Pat Morrison, who had agreed to sign off on the MOU, retired on Jan. 1. Debbie Cress, the new district ranger, wanted to review the deal and have her superiors in Washington take a look at it before signing off.  "I'm just getting my feet wet," Cress said. "We are looking into getting support for that (buyout)."

As this issue went to press, the deal remained in limbo awaiting Cress' decision. Bird made the five-hour trip to the Gila once again to see if he could settle things in person, but the Glenwood District is still "a wild card," he said in a Feb. 5 email.

For Alan Tackman and Terry Reidhead, the waiting game, frustrating as it's been, will be one worth winning.

"I wasn't for the wolf reintroduction," Reidhead admits. "We've been making a living off this old forest for 100 years. But it's a steep, rugged allotment and it's probably better suited for wildlife than anything. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

For Tackman, who plans to continue ranching where there are no wolves, closing the deal with Bird and saying goodbye to the lands his family's herds have grazed for four decades won't be easy.

"On a rational level, it was not difficult. On an emotional level, it's very difficult," he says. "When he gives me that check releasing me of my permit, I'm going to cry."

April Reese is a freelance writer based in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

This story was funded by a grant from the McCune Charitable Foundation.