In the Southwest, wolves-and wilds-get a second chance.
"The government spent millions to rid this country of wolves,"
fumed a spokesman for the New Mexico Cattlemen's Association last year.
"Now they want to turn around and spend money to bring them back.
It's a seven-million-dollar boondoggle."
The cattleman was right on the first two counts. Despite predictable
yowling from the livestock industry, most southwesterners thought the real
boondoggle was the near-extermination of El Lobo in the first place. Now,
in Arizona's Blue Range Primitive Area--not far from where the young ranger
Aldo Leopold, in a celebrated moment of revelation, saw the "fierce
green fire" turn to frost in the eyes of a dying wolf--they're taking
steps to restore the precarious balance of nature.
The Mexican gray wolf, all but eradicated by the 1930s, is returning.
Supporters view the reintroduction as the endangered species' last chance
for survival. It's also a rare chance to reclaim a region whose once-rich
diversity had seemed irretrievably lost.
"To have a healthy ecosystem you need some large predators,"
explains Sandy Bahr, a Sierra Club activist from Phoenix who has worked
to get the Mexican wolf reintroduced in the Southwest. "We need to
adapt to living with wolves, not vice versa."
The wolves, however, will definitely have some adjusting to do. Canis
lupus baileyi, which once ranged freely in the Southwest and northern
Mexico, hasn't been seen in the Arizona wilds for some 30 years. Since
bottoming out at a population of 7 in 1960, the Mexican gray has been bred
in zoos, and currently numbers around 150. The Arizona Game and Fish Department
now expects three families (up to 15 animals) to be moved to acclimation
pens in Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest by year's end. Once the wolves
get used to the forest environment--which could take six months or longer
for captive-bred creatures like these--they'll be allowed to roam the Apache
as well as the adjoining Gila National Forest, across the New Mexico border.
"We're trying to make the ecosystem whole again," says Tom
Bauer, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Over the next
decade, the agency hopes to see the region's wild wolf population expand
to at least 100.
Not everyone is sanguine about the recovery plans. Siding with ranching
and agribusiness interests, the governors of Arizona and New Mexico both
opposed reintroduction; in addition to fears that wolves would prey on
livestock, foes fretted over possible land-use restrictions. But years
of relentless campaigning by conservationists helped rally broad support--including
that of a handful of local ranchers--and won crucial backing from the Arizona
Game and Fish Commission and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, the nation's
top wildlife manager.
"Without strong public support this never would have happened,"
says the Sierra Club's Bahr. She gives much of the credit to veteran Club
activist Bobbie Holaday, who founded PAWs (Preserve Arizona's Wolves) to
focus on wolf recovery, drawing on financial and volunteer support from
the Club as needed. Also vital was the conservation group Defenders of
Wildlife, which has offered to compensate any ranchers whose livestock
are killed by wolves. (Such instances have been rare around Yellowstone
National Park, where wild Canadian wolves were relocated in 1995.)
The Mexican wolf's return to Arizona is "a wonderful step in the
right direction," Bahr says. "But this is not the way we should
be doing things. We shouldn't have to spend so much money, time, and resources
to bring an animal back from near-extinction. We should be working to preserve
intact ecosystems to begin with."
-- B. J. Bergman
Happy Earth Day, Vladimir!
The GOP just can't stop green-bashing.
What makes people most nervous about Republican control
of Congress? According to a post-election poll, the biggest reservation
of 24 percent of respondents was the party's approach to the environment.
Thus, as the 105th Congress got under way earlier this year, GOP leaders
on Capitol Hill spoke soothingly of reconciliation and bipartisanship.
"The Republican environmental agenda will consist of more than coining
new epithets for environmental extremists or offering banal symbolic gestures,"
wrote Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) in The New York Times. House Speaker
Newt Gingrich expressed similar sentiments. "There's a lot of confusion
about where we stood on the environment," he complained.
In order to clear up that confusion, Gingrich had established
an environmental task force, chaired jointly by antiEndangered Species
Act crusader Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) and eco-hero Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.).
Despite his new position, Pombo played true to form, attempting to hold
a popular flood-relief bill hostage to his plan to gut the Endangered Species
Act. Boehlert demurred, causing task-force member Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho)
to declare that he had "lost respect for the sanctity of private property
and human life." Boehlert, she explained, "comes from a mostly
concrete district, where they don't have the kinds of floods we have."
In fact, Boehlert's district includes the Catskill and
Adirondack mountains, and six of his constituents drowned in the 1996 floods
(compared with none of Chenoweth's). But Chenoweth has some odd ideas about
geography. For example, in arguing that the U.S. Forest Service should
abandon efforts to recruit minorities in Idaho, she maintained that "the
warm-climate community just hasn't found the colder climate that attractive.
It's an area of America that has simply never attracted the Afro-American
or the Hispanic."
Statements by some of Chenoweth's colleagues from the
northern Rockies cause one to wonder about the cold-climate community.
"It's no accident that Earth Day is Lenin's birthday," insisted
former Wyoming Senator Malcolm Wallop (R), speaking on National Empowerment
Television. Wyoming state Representative Carolyn Paseneaux (R) titillated
a "wise-use" convention with stories about how the United Nations
"will very much displace people" from the northern Rockies, alluding
darkly to "the Rothschilds, the Rockefellers, the Bilderburgers, the
Trilateral Commission, and how our president plays into that." (Sadly,
she never did explain.)
Western Republicans remain oddly obsessed with the United
Nations. In Colorado, state Senator Charles Duke (R) introduced a measure
to support Alaska Representative Don Young's (R) American Land Sovereignty
Protection Act, which would prevent blue-helmeted U.N. troops from taking
over rural areas of the United States. (See "None Dare Call It Reason,"
January/ February.) Last year, when questioned by a sheriff's deputy about
who might have been responsible for a break-in at his home, Duke fingered
Newt Gingrich--a likely suspect, Duke thought, because the speaker had
complained in 1994 about the "state sovereignty movement."
"Inasmuch as I was the perceived leader of the movement
at the time," said Duke, "I considered [this remark] a direct
threat against me personally."
Gingrich didn't seem overly concerned about Duke's allegations,
but he did worry about the intraparty squabbling. In May, seeking to cool
down anti-environmental westerners, Gingrich reportedly apologized to them
for Boehlert's role in ultimately killing Pombo's anti-ESA rider, promising
to make Boehlert "irrelevant" in the future. Meanwhile, by mutual
agreement, Pombo and Gingrich declared that the environmental task force
The speaker's attempt to soften his party's environmental
image ran into reality on the state level too. In Arizona, for example,
Republicans authored a bill to allow agricultural pesticide spraying closer
to schools and daycare centers. "If you get a dose of it," suggested
Senator Pat Conner, "just go take a bath." (A similar formulation
was employed by Chuck Shipley, a lobbyist for the Arizona Mining Association,
in commenting on a bill to weaken aquifer protection: "If they're
thirsty," he said, "they'll drink that crap.")
How will it end? "They [environmentalists] should
have a victory parade and just go home," sighed Becky Norton Dunlop,
secretary of natural resources for the state of Virginia. Hope springs
eternal. -- Paul Rauber
Faces of Environmentalism
Here's a paradox: measured by self-identification alone, 65 to 80 percent of Americans
are environmentalists. But measured by membership in green organizations, only 5 percent
are. To get a more accurate picture, enterprising pollster George Pettinico
cross-tabulated responses from a number of national surveys, selecting out as "true
greens" those who rated the environment as one of the most important issues facing
the country; who said it played an important role in their decision in the last
presidential election; who thought that the government was doing too little to safeguard
the environment; and who favored environmental protection over economic expansion. His
results put to rest the claim that the environment is only a concern of middle-class,
middle-aged whites. There are more shades of green than commonly thought.
PERCENTAGE OF "TRUE GREENS"
50 to 59:40%
30 to 49:50%
High school graduate:49%
College and postgraduate:50%
Last April, when the old Mir space station developed problems with its air system,
Congressman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) took up the cause of air quality for visiting American
astronauts with senior NASA officials.
Sadly, Lewis' concern for air quality does not extend to his Southern California
district. For 65 days last year, the city of Redlands violated permissible limits of
ozone--a slight improvement on its 98 days of violation in 1994, the year Lewis introduced
legislation to cut a third of the EPA's budget, which would have sharply curtailed its
ability to enforce clean-air standards. Luckily, Sierra Club activists were able to save
the clean-air funds.
Air quality for astronauts, both on Earth and in space, is regulated by OSHA, and ozone
may not exceed an average of .1 parts per million over a workday. Ozone levels in Redlands
are sometimes double the EPA limit of .12 ppm per hour, so if American astronauts ever
stop by to visit their benefactor, they'd better wear their space suits. --Harold Weston
Bob and Ted's Big Adventure
A rocker and race-car driver take on wilderness.
When three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Unser got lost for two
days while snowmobiling illegally in Colorado's South San Juan Wilderness
last December, he got more than a citation from the U.S. Forest Service.
Unser became the latest poster child of anti-environmental "wise-use"
groups infuriated with the Wilderness Act of 1964, a law that has the audacity
to suggest that there are some public lands where natural processes, not
human uses, should take precedence. Joined by aging rocker and avid bow
hunter Ted Nugent, Unser was the star attraction at a joint congressional
hearing in April pillorying management of federal wilderness areas.
"There is something un-American going on at the Forest Service,"
Unser said before the hearing. "It's become obviously an environmental
stronghold. It's worse than the KGB in Russia." Not to be outdone,
Nugent, who advocates hunting in national parks, urged Congress to "tear
down the walls to wilderness in North America."
Two months after his appeal to patriotism, Unser was convicted in federal
court for his snowmobile foray. The judge was not swayed by his claim that
he accidentally crossed into the wilderness area in South San Juan. Among
the evidence: in an encounter with a ranger in 1993, Unser reportedly stated
that he knew where the wilderness boundaries were, and that if he entered
the area "nobody would be able to catch him."
If only all such transgressions could be resolved so expeditiously.
Last year, the Forest Service reported 1,387 violations of the ban on motorized
equipment in wilderness areas, and even larger threats loom. These Capitol
Hill hearings may be a prelude to broader efforts in Congress to open up
protected federal lands to logging, grazing, and other commercial activities.
But some benefits emerged from the sideshow: after Unser's case hit the
national media, fewer snowmobilers violated the Wilderness Act in the national
forest where the crime occurred. --Reed McManus
Flying Blind in Florida
Big birds you don't want in the Everglades.
You might think the closure of a smallish Air Force base hard by the
Everglades would be a boon to the natural environment, and a blessing for
lovers of peace and quiet. But then you probably wouldn't expect a commercial
airport on the order of New York's JFK to take its place.
The base, less than 15 miles from Everglades National Park and just
2 miles from Biscayne Bay National Park, has been closed since Hurricane
Andrew hit south Florida in 1992. The Defense Department is about to lease
the shuttered facility for 20 to 30 years to Dade County, which agreed
to let a developer turn it into a modest regional airport.
There's one small problem, however. Since the project's environmental
impact statement was prepared in 1994, the benign little airport has metastasized
into a huge international one, intended not as a backup for Miami International
but as a competitor, with at least 230,000 flights annually projected by
the year 2015. Opponents-led by the Sierra Club, Friends of the Everglades,
and the Izaak Walton League-say the resulting noise and pollution will
have devastating effects on the Everglades and environs. Moreover, because
the feds are refusing to do a supplemental impact statement on the expanded
facility, the planned airport appears to violate the National Environmental