Articles of interest on Mexican gray and other wolves

Under Siege in Wolf Country

The Mexican Gray Wolf: Killers and Thieves of Peace of Mind

Copyright © 2006 Lif C Strand

copyright 2006 Lif C Strand

Jim Haught, a Catron County, New Mexico rancher, sits on the couch near his kitchen, worry etched on his face. His wife, Sherry, sits on a chair across from him. She too, shows the effects of too many days and nights of worry.

“If I came in your house every night and stole from you and you knew who it was, pretty soon you’d do something about it,” Haught says. But the Haughts and others who live in and near the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico are trapped in a nightmare - they know who is stealing from them but they have to helplessly allow it to happen.

Non-combatants who live in war zones know about vulnerability - family, possessions and way of life threatened with no way to protect any of it, no recourse if something (your possessions, your livelihood, your peace of mind) is taken from you. In the wolf recovery area, people feel like they are living in a war zone. They are having their possessions and their way of life stolen from them, and they cannot protect any of it.

There appears to be some idea in the outside world that wolves are not dangerous, that they mind their own business and help control the populations of elk and deer in the wild. But those who live here know that wolves are smart enough to have found easier prey - calves, foals, cats, dogs - and they fear that one day they will find children to be the easiest prey of all.

The Wolf Recovery program can provide statistics on livestock predation by wolves, but Catron County’s Wolf Incident Investigator, Jess Carey, is compiling a database of wolf incidents which is far more inclusive.

“Wolves that aren’t afraid of humans will go after your chickens, your dogs and your cats,” Carey says. You can’t easily chase them off, and you may be putting yourself at risk if you do so.”

Heather Amenta knows first hand how bold the wolves are.

“The kids had just finished chores and were eating dinner,” she recalls. “They came screaming into the bedroom – they could see a wolf from the bay window in the dining room. They said the horses were running, kicking at it.

“I went out the kitchen door and sure enough there was a wolf – now it was in the chicken coop. I told the kids to stay in the house and I was yelling as I ran up the hill. The wolf ignored me. He was right there – he had just walked out of the coop. I was so close to it, I’m screaming, the chickens are screaming, and the wolf just picks up its head and looks at me.”

It is against the law to kill a wolf in order to protect anything but livestock - cattle, sheep, horses, mules, or burros - on private property. This means if a wolf kills chickens, a cat, a dog or any other of your pets, you can’t do a thing about it.

“I watched a wolf with my cat in its mouth,” Amenta says. “The wolf just ate the hind end of my cat off and left it there, still alive. I had to kill the cat myself.

“Another time I saw a wolf chasing my old dog. Sedona’s a Great Dane, but she’s got hip problems, she could never save herself from a wolf. I was so scared! I don’t have four hands. I didn’t know which to do: protect my kids, protect my dog, go after the wolf. I thought the wolf was going to come into the house.”

Amenta has lost over 150 chickens to wolves so far. She now will not allow her four children, ages two through ten, to play outside unsupervised. She has installed security doors in her house.

“It’s like a prison in here, but I have to keep my kids safe,” she says.

Katy Leist saw some wolves on the ridge close to her house, and could hear her expensive hunting dog pup screaming. She got a gun and her pit bull and went up the hill.

“Six wolves had two of my dogs surrounded,” she recalls. “I shot to scare and the wolves scattered. But I found the pup torn to pieces, still alive. Her back was broken and her skull crushed.

“Now I’m paranoid about letting my kids outside, they’re very young. I’m afraid for my mini horse, and a sick mare I’ve got in the corral.

“I’m afraid to leave my house, so afraid I want to find some place somewhere else so we can move out of the area. I want to be somewhere where my kids are safe.” (Leist and her husband currently have their ranch for sale).

Wildlife Services investigated Leist’s pup’s death and she eventually received a report confirming that a wolf killed the dog. Leist and her family live well outside the Wolf Recovery Area, and the wolves she saw were not collared. Those wolves are not considered part of the Wolf Recovery Program but they are still protected by it.

Parents are especially concerned about their children, particularly the very young ones. Dustie Harper, who lives 20 miles south of Alpine, AZ, has a three year old daughter. A wolf attacked one of the family dogs on her mother’s back doorstep and Harper lives just a couple hundred feet away.

“We’ve had the wolf people stand in our yard say they’d feel perfectly safe if their children were near wolves,” Dustie’s mother, Cassie Joy says.

“I say let’s put a wolf in your yard and see what you think if it’s your kids,” Harper says.

“My kids don’t have the life they should,” Amenta says. “People say because I live in Catron County I asked for this - but I don’t see bears or mountain lions attacking my children – they don’t come in my yard.

“I’ve learned a lot about wolves because I raised one.” Amenta says. “I asked at a wolf meeting why they won’t allow children under 10 into the wolf exhibit where they keep them before releasing the wolves into the wild. They say it’s because wolves are attracted to the sound children make – wolves are predators and they go after the sound of weak voices. They say if you let your dogs out with your kids, that attracts wolves, too - heck, I got the dogs to protect the kids!”

Stress, often referred to as the "fight-or-flight" reaction, occurs automatically when you feel threatened. Hormones are released into your system which focus your concentration, speed your reaction time, and increase your strength and agility, giving you the edge you need to fight the threat, or to flee from it.

But problems occur when you can neither fight nor flee from danger, when the danger never goes away, such as in war zones - or in Arizona and New Mexico’s Wolf Recovery Area. Cumulative unrelieved stress (chronic stress) can disrupt families and contribute to illnesses such as ulcers and high blood pressure, and may lead to psychological conditions such as depression, sleeplessness, nightmares and anger issues.

“That’s the problem, we can’t do anything about it,” Harper says. “If they’d give us our rights to protect ourselves, it wouldn’t be so bad.”

“Wolves can come on our property and do anything, kill our horses or our pets,” Cassie Joy, Dustie’s mother, says. We can’t do a thing.”

“Part of our population wants to know that wolves are howling in the Gila,” says Charlie Gould, who lives near Leist, and whose mules were attacked in their corral by wolves. “But when a wolf howls and you know it’s threatening your family, your livelihood, the whole custom and culture, you don’t have a warm and fuzzy feeling.”

With up to $50,000 fines looming over their lives for killing a wolf, Joy, Amenta, the Haughts and others living in the beautiful mountains of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico are under siege in a bizarre war zone.

“I moved here so my kids would have freedom, but now I might as well live in an apartment in the city because they can’t even go outside the house,” Amenta says.

“People need to know the truth about here,” Cassie Joy says. “They need to beware: You can’t go into the Wolf Recovery Area without being afraid. The wolf people tell you how wonderful it is hearing wolves howl, but they don’t tell you the wolves’ll come and get your dogs. Beware, wolves aren’t afraid of you.

“The other day we were comparing,” Joy says. “We live out here with wolves like people in cities live with thieves and killers. But in the cities they can call the police, here we’re not protected. Wolves are killers and thieves, too.”


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