Robinson gives talk on Gray Wolf recovery   Leave a comment

October 18, 2016 By Bill Charland, For the Sun-News

Micheal Robinson (Photo: Courtesy Photo)

SILVER CITY — Michael Robinson may have been preaching to the choir at Silver City’s Unitarian Universalist Church last Sunday, judging from the warm applause that greeted his presentation on the Mexican Gray Wolf. But as an advocate for restoring the wolf to the Gila Wilderness, he was probably due a welco
me reception. Robinson represents The Center for Biological Diversity, an activist organization that goes to bat for many species hovering on the brink of extinction.

The Gray Wolf is a special case among vanishing species, Robinson said in a phone interview. “Some 41 animal and plant species are well-documented as having become extinct since 1985. But wolves are unique in that their extinction was intentional.”

In his presentation, Robinson showed photos of federal trappers early in the 20th century who were employed full time to hunt down and kill wolves that had lived in harmony with Native American populations for centuries but threatened the livestock industry of European settlers. Theodore Roosevelt called the wolf “the beast of waste and destruction.”

The Mexican Gray Wolf or “Desert Wolf” of the Southwest was pursued even south of the border, until a growing environmental movement gave rise to the Endangered Species Act of 1973 under President Richard Nixon. Now the federal Fish and Wildlife Service received new marching orders. Instead of tracking down the Mexican Gray Wolf to destroy it, the agency was charged with finding any remnants in Mexico, for a breeding program to bring it back to life.

In 1998, a small pack of Mexican Gray Wolves, bred in captivity, was introduced to the Gila Wilderness of western New Mexico and the Apache National Forest of eastern Arizona. Today there are 97 wolves in the United States, about half in New Mexico, with another 25 or so in Mexico. It’s a precarious population with only six breeding pairs. And the wolves have been consistently under attack from certain ranchers who have felt under duress from their presence (albeit on public lands, Robinson notes) and by Congressman Steve Pearce and Governor Susana Martinez who have represented the livestock industry in legislation. Both have tangled with The Center for Biological Diversity.

Robinson believes that taking up the cause of the Mexican Gray Wolf involves more than making amends for its destruction by our government a century ago. “It’s also a matter of ecological balance,” he said. “Biologists call it the ‘trophic cascade.’ That is, if you remove a predator such as wolves from the top of a food chain, it has consequences all the way down through lower species.”

He cites the case of elk — 90 percent of the wolves’ diet — which have become sedentary around stream beds, consuming plant life and supplanting beavers. “You want elk to be roaming,” added Robinson, “and that requires wolves.” Wolves also contain coyotes. And, he said, in the absence of wolves and other natural predators, over-grazing of cattle denuded the grasslands surrounding Silver City, which contributed to the flood that left us the Big Ditch.

Robinson is the author of a book on the history of wolves in the United States, “Predatory Bureaucracy: The Extermination of Wolves and the Transformation of the West” (University Press of Colorado, 2005).


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