Call of the wild
Perhaps no animal commands a more mythological status than the wolf.
While some humans today feel a primal pull at the sound of a howl, others want nothing more than to see them once again become the stuff of legend instead of reality in the Southwest.
Enough humans hated the Mexican gray wolf a century ago to completely eradicate them from this country.
While the U.S. government helped kill them off, that same entity now is leading the effort to reintroduce the Mexican wolf in the Southwest.
It hasn't been a smooth effort, however; lawsuits and competing interests have created many bumps along the way.
Prescott-area residents will get their chance Saturday to hear about the myths, realities and challenges of the Mexican wolf reintroduction program first-hand.
Shawna Nelson, the Arizona Game and Fish Department's Mexican wolf outreach coordinator, will speak about the program at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Prescott YMCA, 750 Whipple St.
Local Game and Fish Wildlife Manager Scott Poppenberger will join Nelson at the free talk.
"Myths and realities exist about wolves," Poppenberger said. "Hopefully we'll dispel some myths and help the public understand wolf biology and behavior, develop an understanding of the role wolves play in the ecosystem and how people can live with wildlife."
The presentation will focus on the natural history and biology of wolves and include information about the reintroduction program's successes and failures.
The first half of 2006 hasn't been easy for some of the wolves because of their attacks on livestock.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a policy to capture or kill wolves whenever the agency confirms three instances of livestock kills within a year, explained Shawn Farry, the Arizona Game and Fish Department's Mexican wolf field team leader.
The federal government estimated that 35-49 wolves were in the wild by the end of 2005.
The feds shot and killed at least four adult wolves this year, Farry estimated. Fish and Wildlife tries to haze or catch wolves that kill livestock, but that's not always possible, he said.
In May, a captured female died in captivity, and the cause still is under investigation. A surrogate father killed six captured pups after officials placed them in a pen with the male's mate and two of the male's own pups. A seventh pup in that litter undoubtedly died in the wild since the agency captured her mother, Farry said.
All those deaths drop the wild number by at least 11 this year to a minimum of 24, less than half of the 2003 number. The feds had hoped in 1998 to have more than 100 by the end of 2006.
"The Bush administration is running an extermination program masquerading as a recovery program," charged Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity.
Several conservation groups sent a letter to the U.S. Interior Department last month that asks it to issue an emergency moratorium on wolf killings until the program reaches its goals.
"Wolves clearly aren't going to distinguish between livestock and elk," said Sandy Bahr, conservation outreach director for the Sierra Club in Arizona. "That is a huge part of the problem.
"There are a lot of problems with the program right now and it's hard not to feel negative."
At the same time, it's encouraging to see that the wolves are adapting to the world today, she said.
"The animals seem to be adapting, but the people aren't," she added. "There definitely needs to be an adjustment to the program if there's ever going to be a recovery" for the wolf population.
On the upside, officials estimate that seven packs are producing wild pups this year, Farry said.
"I think everybody in the program, when push comes to shove, is an optimist," Farry said. At the same time, they're realists, he added.
In areas where wolves and livestock co-exist, such as Minnesota and Montana, wolves take an average of less than one-tenth of one percent of available livestock, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Humans, livestock and roads always will be part of the equation alongside wolves, Farry observed. Most of the 9,000-square-mile main reintroduction area on federal and tribal lands contains livestock allotments.
The state's ultimate goal is a wolf population stable enough to manage like any other predator such as a lion or coyote, he said.
Internet sites to learn more:
Defenders of Wildlife at www.defenders.org.
Arizona Game and Fish Department: www.azgfd.gov/wolf.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: http://mexicanwolf.fws.gov.
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