Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mexican Wolf’s Enemy #1

Copyright © 2011 CR Edmunds

Right now, all over the web and in print, there are words of panic regarding the amendment to the Continuing Resolution (CR) legislation proposed by Representative Steve Pearce (R-NM). Since no formal appropriations bill has been signed for 2011, the CR allows continued funding of federal agencies (Amendment No. 342: "None of the funds made available by this Act may be used for the continued operation of the Mexican Wolf recovery program").

What has gotten so many people upset about cutting funding for an obviously failed program, particularly in a time when so many more critical programs are facing the axe? Pro-wolf people would like you to think that throwing more money at Mexican wolf recovery will make it work better. Mr. Pearce understands that no amount of money is going to fix what has become one of the most embarrassing of all the attempts to protect "endangered species" in the history of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), particularly when the source of the problem is the program itself.

Let's for the moment put aside the troubling questions that put doubt on the legitimacy of the attempt to "reintroduce" Mexican wolves to begin with (two of the most obvious: Can it be called reintroduction when the animals never used the reintroduction area as native habitat? Can animals that have been bred by humans from a limited genetic pool that may not even be pure be considered a real species?).

The base cause for the failure of the Mexican wolf program has nothing to do with ranchers or right-wing local governments, despite what the pro-wolf supporters like to claim. No, the fundamental problem with the program is actually the fact that it doesn't have any wild animals in it.

But what are Mexican wolves if not wild animals, you ask?

Wild animals that need the protection of the ESA need it because of outside pressures they have no control over; give them back their natural habitat or remove toxins or other outside pressures from their habitat and they proliferate like… well, like wild animals. In fact, healthy species are extraordinarily adaptable - they just need half a chance and they'll thrive. We have plenty of examples of how that works (normal wild animals can thrive even living around humans - the peregrine falcon being a case most people are familiar with). Even such rabid environmentalist groups as the Center for Biological Diversity state that the ESA is one of the most successful environmental laws in U.S. history, with hundreds of endangered species' populations increasing to sustainable, healthy levels.

Of course, the success stories occur when humans back away from messing with the species in question and let them do their thing. The Mexican wolf has no such luck. The 50 or so wolves that the program counts are in the wild, but they are not wild - they are merely feral. This is because humans interfere with every aspect of their lives: The Mexican wolf program chooses which animals will be in the packs and which wolves will mate; pups are stolen from their mothers in the wild so they can be hand-raised in captivity; adults and half-grown wolves are trapped every few years so they can be examined and their collar batteries changed. Of course the program is a failure. It causes physical damage to the wolves (there are three-legged wolves out there because of the trapping, wolves have been run to death by program helicopters) and psychological damage (wolves become habituated to humans; they don't know how to be wild wolves after that) to the animals the program is supposed to be protecting. Every chance a Mexican wolf gets to be wild is thwarted by the intense hands-on management of the program.

The Mexican wolf program is a Mexican wolf's worst enemy.

The very best way to ensure that Mexican wolves thrive in the wild is to prohibit any more interference in their lives by the experts. Let the many hundreds of Mexican wolves in captivity in zoos and refuges around the country live out their lives behind bars in peace. Captivity is all they've known, after all, so they should be as content as any other predator living that way.

And let the Mexican wolves in the wild alone, to survive as best they can. Maybe they'll make it, maybe not. But at least they'll be wild.