BOOKS: The New Wolves
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2002:
The New Wolves: the Return
of the Mexican Wolf to the
American Southwest by Rick Bass
The Lyons Press (123 W. 18th St., New York, NY 10011), 1998,
paperback 2001. 165 pages. $14.95 paperback.
The New Wolves, by Rick Bass, is a comparatively
uncomplicated narrative of the beginning phase of reintroducing the
extirpated Mexican gray wolf to New Mexico and Arizona. The
reintroduction took wolves raised for generations in captivity, and
reacclimated them to life in the wild.
As of 1998, when Bass wrote The New Wolves, success still
seemed far from assured. The first of 11 packs comprising a total of
65 wolves released to date were just about to be freed. Bass
accordingly focused on the cultural and physical environment the
wolves were about to enter, rather than on the wolves themselves,
producing a book which is really more about the sociology and biology
of the southwest than about any single species other than humans.
Entering 2002, just 30 of the released Mexican gray wolves
remained alive in the wild. The reintroduction is still much more
tentative than the vastly more publicized and restoration of timber
wolves to Yellowstone National Park and north-central Idaho–but only
because of rancher opposition. Mortality has resulted mainly from
illegal shooting and shootings to protect livestock. Some wolves
have been recaptured to reduce the risk that they might be shot.
Yet, though the reintroduced wolves cannot outrun bullets,
they have proven themselves able to find food and reproduce. There
is no longer much biological doubt that they can re-establish
themselves, if allowed to do so.
In hindsight, the most important part of The New Wolves may
be the preface, in which Bass remembered, “the old geezers from my
grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s era, sitting in rocking
chairs, flapping their gums about the bygone days when they’d seen
buffalo, or black bears in the Texas hill country, or mountain
lions, or ocelots, or once, a jaguar. As a boy,” Bass confesses,
“there was for me some implicit judgement on my part that the
old-timers had somehow not been worthy of such wild treasures, which
was the reason they had all gone away: the old farts had not been
appreciative enough. I believed they must either have taken such
wonders for granted, or never cared, so that by the time it was
realized those creatures were vanishing, it was too late.
“Then the oldsters followed them. I never intended, or
believed, that one day I too would be telling such stories of loss.
But already I have inherited my own stories. The last supposed
Colorado grizzly was killed while I was in college. The last red
wolf vanished from the Texas Gulf Coast around that same time. ”
Species are still disappearing, as Bass discusses, but the
wolf restorations represent a turning point in public appreciation
sufficient that public policy has begun to expand to predators the
restoration efforts that began with deer, beavers, and bison more
than one century ago.