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Know the West

Standing up for catron county

  Though we ourselves are not in the wolf recovery area, we have quite a few long-standing friends in Catron County (HCN, 12/24/07).

So even though wolves haven't eaten my dogs in my yard, or killed my horse in my corral, or stalked my children while waiting for the school bus, I have followed the issue closely, mindful of the hysteria and closed minds on both sides. After several readings of your article, my primary reaction was of dismay, as much for the sources and opinions that were offered, as for those I felt were conspicuously absent.

Perhaps I should offer here my own disclaimer. A farmer/rancher in Colorado and New Mexico since 1992, I am a transplanted New Englander, and a graduate of one of those elite, liberal, "ivory tower" colleges that many people in this part of the country love to hate.

I was dismayed, however, at your author's portrayal of the people of Catron County. Of course the people there have a resentment of the federal government; one of the community's primary sources of income was logging, which was pretty much shut down by the legislation regarding the spotted owl. The other major source of income is ranching. Now that marginal lifestyle is threatened by wolf depredation. There are not a lot of opportunities to "make up" this lost income. In an economy where input as opposed to income is calculated to the pound of feed, every loss is significant. In my case, I run registered cattle. Besides a value per pound, every cow on this ranch represents sometimes generations of genetics that cannot be duplicated. If the numbers of cattle lost are so insignificant, as your author claims, then why are people in Catron County losing their ranches because of their diminished income? It is even hard for them to sell out, since property values there have taken a hit as a result of the presence of the wolves.

Your author describes public lands being "controlled" by the ranchers. Granted, cattle were grazed on those lands long before the U.S. Forest Service became a federal entity, but now theirs are the rules by which we all play. Our ranch has a 14,000 acre grazing allotment in the Gila National Forest. I'll tell you how much "control" we have. We can run as many cows as the government tells us, between the dates the government tells us they can be there. In the meantime, we are responsible for fence and water maintenance. We also endeavor to do erosion control, not required by the government, because of the "public" that has access to these same lands. This "public" relentlessly rides ATVs up and down sand washes, and anywhere else they might be interested in going, regardless of whether there is a road there or not. Naturally, once one yahoo rides somewhere that looks like it might make a good road, a half dozen others have to go see what was so interesting up there, and pretty soon there is a road where there wasn't before. We also have to put up with hunters and trappers, who cut our fences, or leave gates open. Sure, we could report all of this, but there is only one enforcement officer for the entire 3.3 million acres of the Gila.

Your author omitted quite a few sources for his article. Two years ago or so, Audubon magazine wrote an article about the wolves being reintroduced to the White Mountain Apache reservation in Arizona. I believe it was last year that this same reservation asked the federal government to remove the wolves because of livestock depredations. This fact was noted in the author's timeline, but the reason for the removal was omitted. There is also in southwest New Mexico a woman named Laurie Schneberger who has done extensive reporting on the wolf issue in this area. Her documentation is fact-based and not hysterical, and her photos speak for themselves. Your author neglected to speak to her. Your author did not speak to the Mark Miller family near Mimbres, who had a full-grown, healthy horse killed in a corral right outside their house, as well as other encounters. I think he could have found quite a few sources in Catron County who would have spoken about personal experiences with wolves. Yet he chose to emphasize a single individual and his family, and I can only say that I am extremely dismayed to find that this person is the face of those who oppose the wolf in New Mexico. Certainly, I can't think of anyone I know who would behave in the manner that he has.

I just wanted to remind you that when you write "for people who care about the West," that takes in a very wide range of people and circumstances.

Erin Evans
Silver City, New Mexico