The fate of Mexican gray wolves is about as unsettled and unsecure as that of any carnivore in the United States. Native to a large swath of the Southwest, they were essentially extirpated in the 1970s to make room for ranchers. Their recovery has been stymied by hostile state governments, opposed by a tyrannical minority, and slowed to a crawl by the very agency charged with bringing lobos back. Twenty years after recovery efforts began, just 114 lobos roamed the wilds of the U.S. at last count. The best available science shows that full recovery entails at least 750 Mexican wolves in the wild in at least three connected sub-populations. Progress is too slow, and time is not on the side of the Mexican wolf—a genetic bottleneck makes these ecosystem architects highly susceptible to extinction.
Meanwhile, the fate of the American public lands rancher is secured by enormous subsidies; an apparent freedom to trap, shoot, poison, or fence out everything in sight; and a sense of entitlement that allows for few other forms of life aside from cows brought from a colder, wetter, European environment. We’ve seen this entitlement manifest in many forms—most prominently, the Bundy standoff in Nevada and Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation in Eastern Oregon. Recently, we saw it in New Mexico, where a rancher from Kansas saw fit to illegally, knowingly, and brutally trap and beat a juvenile lobo to death.
In late 2015, Craig Thiessen trapped Mia Tuk (so named by a New Mexican elementary school student), a 10-month-old lobo, and beat the wolf to death with a shovel. Mia Tuk was one of roughly 100 lobos roaming the United States at that time. Thiessen’s implicit belief that his “right” to degrade our public forest land for private profit outweighs recovery chances for a native carnivore is utterly remarkable and disastrous. More than that, it is a striking example of the broader, world-wide tug-of-war between entitlement and existence. The view that short-term profit, so-called production, and extraction trump biodiversity, resilience, and sustainability is untenable. If that is the modus operandi, our world will cease to exist in a way that is recognizable.
We need a wholesale change of attitude, beginning in the American West. Guardians and our allies have called for the U.S. Forest Service to cancel Craig Thiessen’s public lands grazing permit in the Gila National Forest where the last lobos roam. We are waiting for a response…