Western Watersheds Project and other conservationists had been celebrating the travels of Asha, a.k.a. Mexican gray wolf #f2754, the young female disperser from the Rocky Prairie Pack of Arizona. She had made it all the way to Taos, breaking records with her movements north of Interstate 40, east of Interstate 25, and outside of the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area of southern New Mexico and Arizona. She was on a journey whose logic was inscrutable to us two-legged types. She headed away from her birthplace, beyond the territories of any of her reintroduced kin, and into parts unoccupied by her species for decades.
Then she was stopped in her tracks by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who can’t seem to allow for the “wild” part of “wildlife.” The justification for her capture was that she needed to be kept safe from reckless hunters and careless drivers, brought back into the area she had already left, and put in queue for whelping pups.
The reintroduction project’s boundary of Interstate 40 is an arbitrary line that resulted from a political compromise between the federal government and the states of Arizona and New Mexico at the outset of the program. The boundary is not based on suitable habitat or prey densities. The political opposition to letting wolves roam free has trumped the best available science in setting the policies of the recovery program. In fact, leading scientists have concluded that Mexican wolves need additional populations outside of the current recovery area to support the species’ long-term survival, including in the very areas that Asha was traipsing through. Asha showed us the folly of trying to keep wild animals confined by lines on a map.
Moreover, Asha didn’t need to be rounded up and contribute offspring this year in order to be valuable to the recovery project. That reflects a very narrow view. She was already contributing quite a bit. She was showing us where unbound wolves will wander. Her scent trails will beckon the expanding wolf population into places well-suited for the species to survive in a changing climate paradigm. She doesn’t need to breed to be a leader, we only need to let her choose her own fate and to learn from her path.
Asha is young yet, and she might have figured it out on her own if the agencies hadn’t thwarted her unknowable ambitions. She may have kept on running and continued to stay out of conflict with livestock and people. She might have missed her extended family and headed south again. We don’t know what she would have done, but it’s clear that those in charge couldn’t stand to just wait and see.