When Laura Schneberger sent out an email over the weekend about her suspicions in regards to a wolf trap being tampered with, her frustration was clear.
Schneberger is president of the Gila Livestock Growers Association and said the association, now at 95 members, once was 150 or so members strong.
She blames this, in part, on wolves.
Or rather on the wolf program as managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Its like dealing with the dang mafia,” Schneberger said in reference to Fish and Wildlife. She said GLGA does not believe the department is doing enough to protect the ranchers.
Representing Fish and Wildlife, Tom Buckley said his department is doing what it can.
He said there have been four confirmed wolf depredations since March.
A single wolf, the alpha female of the Fox Mountain pack in Western Catron County, had been singled out by the service to be killed earlier this month, but because of public concern, Fish and Wildlife rescinded the kill order two days later, Aug. 10, and agreed to trap her instead.
“Our business is to recover the Mexican wolf,” Buckley said. “We don’t have any answers yet.”
A Mexican Wolf Interdiction Fund has been set up to provide compensation for confirmed wolf kills of cattle, Buckley said. The fund pays for the depredations, range riders and hay for cattle that can’t graze on their normal ranges.
The range riders generally stick around where the cattle are and put themselves between the wolves and the cows, he said.
“That’s usually enough to deter the wolves,” he said. “Most cattle don’t get bothered by the wolves at all.”
The environmental group Defenders of Wildlife generally covers the cost of the range riders, Buckley said.
He said statistics are very low when looking at wolf kills as compared to cattle killed in other predator attacks.
“Many more are killed by wild dogs and coyotes than wolves,” he said. “It’s just such a sensitive subject to some people.”
But to rancher Corwin Hulsey, it’s more than a sensitive subject, it’s his life.
With his cattle endangered after several losses in the last 12 months, Hulsey felt he had to move them off of land he leases at a cost of $1,600 a month.
“I moved all my cows in trailers with two pickups,” Hulsey said.
And because he moved the animals to his own land, quickly overgrazed, he had to buy hay to feed them.
“I fed them $8,500 worth of hay,” he said. “It took $800 in fuel just to move them back and forth.”
“Last year we lost 25 out of 200 calves,” Hulsey said. “You could attribute maybe two or three of those to other predators.”
Three days after Hulsey took his herd back to the leased land earlier this month, the wolves took another cow.
He said there are three range riders up there now, but the wolves attack mostly at night, and the riders can’t be taking their horses across the land at night.
Hulsey himself has been spending nights near the herd, getting up every hour and a half to walk through the area and watch for wolves.
He doesn’t feel the removal of the alpha female will stop the depredation.
“The whole pack is involved,” he said. “It’s discouraging to me.”
After an overall estimated monetary loss of $16,000, of which about $3,500 has been compensated, Hulsey doesn’t know if he can keep the business alive.
“Sooner or later they run everybody (the ranchers) down and they just give up,” Hulsey said. “I don’t think there is any answer. Several have quit because of the wolves.”
Hulsey said he understands Fish and Wildlife are just trying to do their job.
“Their job is to raise wolves and I have a different approach,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of bad feelings toward a lot of the people. It’s just business-wise, it’s running us out of business.”
Hulsey believes things can only be changed in Washington, by legislation.
He suggested the people in the government offices donate $5,000 each out of their paychecks to help him cover the cost of his losses. But, he said, they don’t want to do that.
Jess Carey, wolf interaction investigator for Catron County, said the Hulsey’s livestock is at continuous risk and his monetary loss has not been compensated.
“The stress of the possibility of losing his family ranch, no sleep and constant vigil has taken its toll,” Carey said.
Michael Robinson, with the Center of Biological Diversity, said the removal of the alpha female could be damaging to the wolf recovery efforts.
“Four stock have been lost at a time when mechanisms that have been set up should have prevented it,” he said. “Fish and Wildlife is in charge of this and needs to have a system. The wolves are being made to pay the price.”
Robinson said the magnitude of what is at stake has to be considered.
When the wolf program started it was projected there would be 102 Mexican grey wolves, including 18 breeding pairs by 2006. But today there are only 58 wolves and six breeding pairs on the ground.
Wolf recovery efforts in other locations have proven positive results restoring balances once lost, Robinson said.
In one example, in Yellowstone National Park, he said, wolves were reintroduced in 1995. Up until then, elk had been destroying streamside vegetation and river valley bottoms at the park. Because of the wolf reintroduction, the elk stopped browsing the unsafe areas in river canyons and many of the tall trees and riparian habitats have been restored.
“The question we have to answer as a society is ‘do we want to be responsible for extinction of an intelligent and creative animal?’” Robinson said. “The answer is ‘no.’”
In the meantime, Corwin Hulsy is driving back to his herd this week because something has killed one of his cattle again and he needs to check it out.