It’s probably safe to say no one wants their children to get eaten by wolves. To ensure this doesn’t happen to their kids, people in the town of Reserve, N.M., have taken an extra (and arguably unnecessary) precaution by setting up “kid cages” at school bus stops to protect children from any impending attacks from endangered Mexican gray wolves who have been reintroduced to the area.
The cages were built years ago by a local school district and were recently highlighted in the film Wolves in Government Clothing. The film was created by David Spady, who, among other things, is the California director of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group that was co-founded by the infamous David Koch.
Conservationists and wolf advocates believe the cages are just more anti-wolf propaganda intended to instill fear and perpetuate misconceptions about wolves.
Daniel MacNulty, a professor of wildlife ecology at Utah State University who has been studying wolves for 18 years, told National Geographic that the idea wolves would attack children at bus stops “is fear-mongering and unhinged from the facts,” adding that children are more likely to be injured or killed “in an incident with an off-road all-terrain vehicle, or in an encounter with a feral dog, or in a hunting accident.”
I think the “kid cages” are a publicity stunt designed to stoke opposition to Mexican wolf recovery in general and to the federal government in particular. Why else would the anti-federalist group Americans for Prosperity be circulating photos and videos of the cages? I would be skeptical of any wolf-related information coming from this organization or its agents.
Maggie Dwire, a Mexican wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) told High Country News that no one has complained about wolves bothering school children and that if they had a team would have visited the area to determine if the animal reported were a wolf and whether it were watching children. If a wolf were caught posing a threat to safety it would be removed.
Anti-wolf propaganda that has hurt conservation efforts isn’t new. For wolves, this type of fear-mongering and intolerance is exactly what led to the bounty programs, trapping, poisoning, baiting and aerial gunning that nearly exterminated them in the first place. In some cases, they’ve become a scapegoat for anti-government groups, those who oppose the Endangered Species Act and ranchers who’ve come to believe that the public lands they’re leasing are their private property where wolves have no right to exist.
In other cases they’ve become victims of the myths spread by pro-hunting groups. In Utah, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife successfully convinced politicians to fork over $300,000 from the state’s general fund to lobby against wolves who don’t even exist in the state.
In this case, the timing is the real killer. While the FWS is about to throw gray wolves under the bus, it has proposed extending Endangered Species Act protections to Mexican gray wolves in Arizona and New Mexico, which conservationists hope will expand the area they’re allowed to roam in and make it illegal to kill them.
Their population is estimated to be just 75 in the wild, which is still short of the goal of 100 that was set when the recovery plan was approved in 1982 and the first were released in Arizona in 1998. Since then, they’ve continued to face threats ranging from a lack of genetic diversity, diseases and natural disasters to conflicts with livestock and us humans – dozens have been shot and killed. As it stands now, any wolves who leave the recovery area and establish a new territory are captured and put back. Not only does this stop them from establishing new territories and moving between different populations, but captures can be traumatic and end in death.
Despite the kid cages and all the propaganda, residents still seem largely supportive of recovery efforts. A recent poll found that 87 percent of voters in both Arizona and New Mexico agree that “wolves are a vital part of America’s wilderness and natural heritage,” while more than 80 percent in both states agree that “the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should make every effort to help wolves recover and prevent extinction.”
Fortunately, there’s still time to speak up on behalf of wolves. The FWS has rescheduled public hearings that will be held in Colorado, New Mexico, California and Arizona through December and has extended the public comment period until December 17. You can submit a comment in support of wolf recovery efforts for gray wolves here and Mexican wolves here.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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