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Animal activists fire back in defense of wolves

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) -- Wolves belong in the wild, and ranchers should find a way to coexist, said a supporter of an effort to reintroduce Mexican gray wolves to the wild.

Officials with the federal government's reintroduction program in southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona held four public meetings last week to gather feedback on the recovery program, which began in March 1998.

"If you're going to graze (cattle) on public lands, you're going to do it at your own risk," Oscar Simpson, New Mexico Wildlife Federation president, said at the meeting here Saturday.

Simpson and Dave Foreman, an Albuquerque resident who directs The Rewilding Institute, suggested that the government buy out grazing leases from ranchers who don't want to continue running livestock on public lands where there are wolves.

"This comes down to a philosophical debate that's not resolvable between those of us who love the wolf and those who hate the wolf," Foreman said.

The meeting in Albuquerque took on a much different tone than one held on Wednesday in Reserve, where dozens of residents blasted the wolf reintroduction program.

On Saturday, many in attendance were wearing wolf T-shirts and buttons that said, "More Wolves, Less Politics."

About 60 people attended the meeting to discuss proposed new rules and a recent review of the program.

Biologists have recommended allowing the wolves to set up territories outside the current boundaries, and the U.S



. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed a one-year ban on some new wolf releases.

The federal agencies running the program are also considering a new "standard operating procedure" that spells out how to handle problem wolves.

During the first meeting in Reserve, ranchers said the government needs to make drastic changes to the program or stop reintroduction.

If the program continues, they say any wolf that strays out of the Gila Wilderness in southwestern New Mexico should be fair game for shooting.

The recovery program was meant to re-establish wild populations of the species that had been hunted to the brink of extinction in the early 1900s. There are now about 50 wolves in the wild.

Ranchers say the government is dramatically undercounting the number of cows and calves killed by the wolves.

Don Jones of the Y Canyon Ranch read a 35-day log written by his wife, including this entry: "June 3. Found another dead cow. ... We just cannot find them as quick as the wolves kill them!"

At a meeting in Silver City on Thursday, only two people spoke against the wolves.

In Truth or Consequences on Friday, the speakers mostly opposed the reintroduction.

The two ranchers that spoke in opposition at the Albuquerque meeting said cattle are being killed in large numbers.

Fred Galley, owner of Rayny Mesa Ranch in the Gila, described a grisly attack in which wolves grabbed a cow from the back and "proceeded to eat on her till she bled to death."

Galley said he and several of his neighbors would take a buyout of their Forest Service grazing permits.

"Why is death by wolves more reprehensible than death by slaughterhouse?" Jane Ravenwolf of Sandia Park asked. "Wolves are doing it because they need to live. We're doing it because we don't have a conscience to know better."

Eva Sargent, Southwest director of Defenders of Wildlife, said her organization wants to expand its efforts to help ranchers.

"Defenders is ready to put money on the table," she said.

The group already compensates ranchers for livestock killed by wolves and has hired riders to help protect cattle.





Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM  Pacific

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