Many times the sound of howling and yelping coyotes awakens me. I sit bolt upright in my bed as my sleep-filled brain tries to calculate where my critters are and whether or not they are safe. The dogs on the floor beside me, the cat on the foot of the bed, I roll over and go back to sleep.
In the years that I've lived in the mountains outside Albuquerque, I've lost three cats and three ducks to coyotes. I know they are natural predators and if my pets are outside, there is a chance they'll fall prey. I hear the coyotes, but I hardly see them. They don't generally come close to humans.
But that could all change due to a new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan to expand the area for Mexican grey wolf reintroduction. The current plan calls for virtually all the southern half of New Mexico to become wolf habitat — but wolf advocates at a hearing about the plan, held in Truth or Consequences on Aug. 13, repeatedly declared that Southern New Mexico wasn't enough. They want the wolf introduced north of I-40. Some called for wolves to be released in the Grand Canyon and the Four Corners area.
Wolves are master predators — and they are enemies of coyotes. Wolves attack bigger prey: deer, elk and cattle — but are known to carry off a dog or cat as well. They are not afraid of people and will come right up to a house if they are hungry.
Supporters of the expanded plan plead for people to "open their eyes and hearts to wolves, to remove boundaries."
"Wolves are demonized" and "wolves don't hurt humans" were reoccurring themes throughout the evening hearing — where 70 people spoke (48 for the expanded plan, 22 against). The hearing was conducted with precision — cutting people off mid-sentence at the two-minute mark — and ended promptly at 9 p.m.
Most of the 22 against the plan live in the areas already impacted by the current wolf reintroduction.
One woman told of growing up on her family's ranch. She remembers being able to play by the stream without fear. But now, with wolves around, it is a different story for her grandchildren. They came to visit one day. They brought their new puppy. As they bounded out of the car, toward grandma, two wolves emerged from the creek and snatched the puppy as the shocked children helplessly watched. They are now afraid to go to grandma's house. They have nightmares.
Nine ranches in the current habitat area have been sold due to wolf predation — too many cattle are killed and ranchers are forced off the land.
Had I been allowed to speak — and I did sign up, I would have addressed the lunacy of the plan. After huge amounts of effort and resources have been invested to save the sand dune lizard and the lesser prairie chicken in and around the oil patch of southeastern New Mexico, they now want to introduce a master predator that will gobble up the other endangered species?
State Senator Bill Soules, from Las Cruces, supports the new, expanded plan. He said: "I've had many people contact me wanting wolves protected. I've had no one contact me with the opposing view" — perhaps that is because neither phone number listed on his New Mexico Legislature webpage takes you to a person or voicemail.
Calls to our elected officials do matter. The Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting written comments on the proposed revision to the "Nonessential Experimental Population of the Mexican Wolf" through September 23. Please add to the discussion. Comments must be substantive, related to the proposed alternatives, or scientifically valid, and something not yet considered.
People shouldn't lie awake in fear of their families and property.