N.M. Federal Lands News

by Frank DuBois

The Federal Land Council News

My column this month will answer the question “Was it a wolf kill or did the cow stomp its calf to death?” Plus items on forest fires, more Wilderness and sequester jesters.

The Saga of M113

On January 8th of this year the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) released a male four-year-old wolf named M1133 into the Apache National Forest near the New Mexico border. The alpha male of the Bluestem pack had been shot by a hunter and it was hoped M1133 would mate with the pack’s alpha female.  However, the pack rejected M1133 and he wandered into New Mexico and outside the Blue Range Recovery Area, resulting in him being returned to captivity.

M1133 was returned to the Sevilleta Wolf Management Facility in New Mexico and was paired with F1108. Tests showed F1108 was pregnant and on April 27 the pair was released in New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness. Once again M1133 failed to bond and after travelling over 75 miles and outside the Blue Range Recovery Area, the wolf was captured on May 11 and returned to the Sevilleta Wolf Management Facility.

That’s the official version. Here is the information I received from NM ranchers Joe Bill and Loren Nunn.

On the morning of May 11 Loren received a phone call from Mike Kelly with USDA Wildlife Services saying they had a wolf on their San Juan Ranch. When Joe Bill and Loren arrived at a site just east of headquarters and on private land, they found one calf down, the cow standing guard and the wolf still hanging around.  Also present were two employees of the FWS and Mr. Kelly.  The calf was still alive at this point but died later that afternoon.  Joe Bill said the ground was tore up all around the calf where the now exhausted cow had been fighting off the wolf.

The FWS made several attempts to dart the wolf, all unsuccessful. All this time the cow was still standing guard. Finally Wildlife Services was allowed to set traps for the wolf and he was captured nearby later that day. And that cow was still standing guard.

There should be no doubt this was a wolf kill, right?

Joe Bill says one lady with the FWS “had mentioned to me when we first met her around noon that they thought the cow may have injured her own calf while protecting it from the wolf. She also said there was a coyote in the area and she thought the coyote may have attacked the calf and then the wolf just happened to show up and ran the coyote off.”

That bit of fancy reasoning was put to bed after the calf died. Joe Bill says, “Mr. Kelly removed the head and the hide back over the neck of the calf. It was clear due to the size of the teeth marks and severe damage to the inside of the mouth and the bites on the neck that it was a wolf kill.” It was a “slow, painful and agonizing way for a calf to endure a wolf attack” said Joe Bill.

According to Joe Bill, the FWS then agreed it was a wolf kill.

Can we in NM look forward to more of this? Benjamin Tuggle, the FWS Southwest Regional Director, says “Our strategy for 2013 will be to increase the genetic viability of the wild population, and implement management activities that support more wolves in the wild. Releases are one of the important tools we use for improving the genetic viability of the wild population.”

And that cow stood guard for several more days, her “genetic viability” laying dead at her feet.

Pearce report on NM wildfires

U.S. Congressman Steve Pearce has released a report he requested last summer on recent fires in New Mexico. Pearce says the report is “a step toward the transparent, locally-driven approach to forest management that New Mexico needs.” Pearce also stated “New Mexicans have expressed anger and frustration over the handling of recent fires, which needlessly cost hundreds of millions of dollars, destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres of habitat, and killed countless plants and animals. By understanding thoroughly what has gone wrong with fire management in past summers, we can work to improve our fire prevention and forestry policies, starting now.”

The report was written by Bill Derr, who retired as special agent in charge of the California Region for the US Forest Service. The report contains six recommendations and among other things states, “This inability of the Forest Service to implement sound forest management practices helped create some of the “Perfect Storm” conditions which allowed the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire and Little Bear Fire and numerous other fires to escape early containment and control. When the responsible harvesting of forest products and thinning of hazardous fuels are precluded by appeals & court injunctions, access roads are closed, and unreasonable restrictions placed on fire suppression actions within Wilderness Areas, early containment and control of wildfires is significantly hampered which drastically damages overall forest health.”

And speaking of Wilderness…

Columbine-Hondo Wilderness

NM Senators Udall & Heinrich have introduced legislation to designate 45,000 acres as the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness. The acreage is in Taos County, in the Carson National Forest and is currently managed to protect its wilderness characteristics. Representative Lujan is introducing companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

“Designating the Columbine Hondo as wilderness will only increase profitable tourism opportunities and provide for continued traditional land uses, such as hunting and grazing” says Senator Udall.

Senator says “Quit Counting Sheep”

Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma has written to Interior Secretary Jewell and raised some interesting questions on sequestration. For instance, Interior has warned that sequestration would shorten park hours, close hiking trails and campgrounds and reduce the season of some parks. The U.S. Geological Survey also has warned it would be forced to shut down hundreds of flood warning gauges across the country. Meanwhile, according to Coburn, Interior plans to keep spending on low-priority programs that could be cut to spare parks from closing.

A program that uses military drones to study pygmy rabbits in Idaho, observe elk in Washington and count sheep in Nevada was one of several singled out by Coburn

“While these studies may provide some interesting information about rabbits, sheep and other animals, cancelling or delaying them is not life threatening. Yet shutting down vital flood gauges, by the agency’s own admission, could be,” Coburn said.

Is it just me or is Interior becoming the King of Sequester Jesters?

Till next time, be a nuisance to the devil and don’t forget to check that cinch.


Frank DuBois was the NM Secretary of Agriculture from 1988 to 2003, is the author of a blog: The Westerner (www.thewesterner.blogspot.com) and is the founder of The DuBois Rodeo Scholarship (www.nmsu.edu/~duboisrodeo).