Ranchers find unlikely partner in Defenders of Wildlife group

From The Westerner Blog

Ever since the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf into the wild in 1998, ranchers in wolf country have been dealing with a predator their ancestors worked to eliminate. And the wolves very nearly were eliminated.

The wild wolves that now roam the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest are the descendants of only seven remaining Mexican wolves left when a recovery effort for the species was launched in the mid-1970s after the passage of the Endangered Species Act. Now, nearly 20 years later, ranchers in wolf country are still coming to terms with how to handle an another predator in a business that includes many variables that affect the bottom line and are outside ranchers’ control.

Some ranchers have found an unlikely partner in dealing with wolf-related livestock losses — an environmental group called Defenders of Wildlife. Since 2002, Defenders of Wildlife has offered a Range Rider program in which the environmental group helps pay the cost for a summer position for a person who will stay out on the range with the cattle and help keep track of the wolves.

The program has quietly grown over the years, as the number of wolves has expanded and the number of ranchers who want to participate has also grown. Starting with only two riders the first year, Defenders is now sponsoring 15 Range Rider projects with ranchers in Arizona and New Mexico. Everything about the program focuses on building partnerships and trust between ranchers, the Interagency Wolf Field Team that manages the animals, and environmentalists. Creating those relationships between people who have been outspoken opponents of the Mexican wolf and suspicious of one another has been a slow task requiring delicate diplomacy. And it is work that wolf extremists — both haters and lovers — often oppose..

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