Wildlife worker exposes truth about rotted Mexican wolf program

Dexter K Oliver reveals some shocking truths about the Mexican wolf program in a recent editorial, Wolves Behind The Scene.  He exposes the rotten program as “a complete breach of public trust and scientific rigor”.  Over 21 years time the program has sucked up tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.

Oliver, a wildlife naturalist, works with federal and state agencies and organizations.  He trained for four days in a Mexican wolf inter-agency team training session while working for the San Carlos Apache Tribe’s wildlife division.  Oliver witnessed the  program’s inner machinations first hand.   He got an eye-opening, behind the scenes look at how Mexican wolves are handled.  He saw the wolves being treated like pet dogs even though the program is supposed to be preparing them to be released to the wild.

Wolves kill anything they can eat.  Unsurprisingly, in the first ninety days of 2019 forty-five domestic animals were taken down by wolves.  That’s an average of one dog or cat, calf or horse, or other not-wild animal every other day.  Federal agencies say it will take 25-35 years — and more than $178 million — to save Mexican wolves.

As Oliver says, “something smells, for sure”.

NOTE:  Sorry for the clickbait-type of headline and writing.  But the Mexican wolf program really is a farce.

Wild vs prescribed: Your lungs don’t care

Smoke from AZ prescribed burn impacts NM

Here in the Southwest we usually have very low humidity, which means our air is extraordinarily clear.  Being able to see mountains 50 and more miles away is common.  This also means that visibility can be used to assess air quality by anyone, as long as you have an idea how far away things are.

According to NM Environmental Public Health, if your know your distances and the objects aren’t easy to see in the specific ranges, then you should adjust your activities to protect your heart and lungs.  No mention of sending complaints to the agencies responsible for the smoke, but I do recommend you do that.

Visibility distance Recommendation
5 miles If you can see less than 5 miles, the air quality is unhealthy for young children, adults over age 65, pregnant women, and people with heart and/or lung disease, asthma or other respiratory illness; they should minimize outdoor activity. These people should reschedule outdoor recreational activities for a day with better air quality. It is okay for adults in good health to be out and about but they should periodically check visibility especially when fires are nearby.
3 miles Young children, adults over age 65, pregnant women, and people with heart and/or lung disease, asthma or other respiratory illness should avoid all outdoor activities. These people should stay indoors. All outdoor activities should be avoided, including running errands. Everyone else should try to stay indoors as much as possible. All outdoor recreational activities should be rescheduled for a day with better air quality.
1 mile If you can see less than 1 mile that means the air quality is unhealthy for everyone. People should remain indoors and avoid all outdoor activities including running errands. Unless an evacuation has been issued, stay inside your home, indoor workplace, or in a safe shelter.

Unfortunately, our public resource management agencies are not very interested in the impacts of their actions on human beings, even though the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires agencies to evaluate the environmental and related social and economic effects of their proposed actions.

The agencies are good at spinning NEPA requirements.  So sure, they evaluate (more or less), but that’s about it.  Somehow evaluation never pans out into modifying their actions so as to minimize negative impact on humans or the environment itself.  Resource management agencies decide in advance what they’re going to do, and compliance with NEPA is just a burden.  Thus there’s a lot of paperwork but little positive and lasting effect from agency actions.  What are the results of the actions supposed to be?  Healthy forests, not burnt stumps, for starters.   Clean air, too.

When I have contacted USFS and asked how much smoke particulate and CO2 a specific fire is dumping into the air the most common response is they don’t know but they are in compliance with the law.  An actual quote from one such response from the Gila National Forest:  “We do not have predicted measurements for anticipated CO2 and particulate matter.  But, every prescribed burn must have a burn plan, and we must ensure that we are in compliance with New Mexico Environmental Department’s Air Quality Bureau.”

Well, gee, that’s reassuring.  NOT.

They’re killing us with the letter of the law

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says “Wildland fires produce air pollution that impacts people’s health and other aspects of daily life… putting more people at a health risk from exposure to smoke.”

Wait, wait. Something doesn’t make sense here.  >> On the one hand government agencies are telling us to protect ourselves from smoke because a) it could kill us directly, and b) it could kill us indirectly (carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is on the rise, contributing to global warming).  >> Yet on the other hand government agencies that are supposed to be in charge of keeping our forests and wildlands healthy don’t have to even estimate and disclose to the public how much those fires contribute to the particulates that destroy lungs, the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses that are destroying our environment?

Huh?

It boils down to this:  Plants soak up carbon dioxide and turn it into leaves and branches.  Plants trap carbonBurning plants — trees, brush, flowers, grass –releases carbon into the atmosphere Not to mention the crap that goes into our lungs.

I can tell you that my lungs don’t know the difference between the smoke that comes from from prescribed vs wildfires, and I doubt the lungs of the people, wildlife, and livestock downwind from fires know the difference, either.

Isn’t it time for resource management agencies to get on board with protecting our planet?’

Seems to me it’s simply common sense to do whatever possible to avoid wildland fires, whether prescribed or “natural”?  I don’t just mean you and me, either.  I’m pretty sure Smokey Bear also meant resource management agencies.

 

 

 

It’s never too lace

Photo of boot lacing

Early lacing configuration

Laura and I were aiming for making it up to the fire lookout tower on top of Escudilla Mountain this coming Friday.  We’re getting closer to our Grand Canyon hike and both of us have been feeling like we need a real test.  The hike from Hulsey Lake up to the top of Escudilla Mountain (or near the top, where the tower is) is about 11 miles round trip.

To compare:  the hike from the top of Bright Angel Trail to Phantom Ranch is 9.9 miles one way.  The altitude change at Grand Canyon is the big deal. It’s 4380 feet from the rim to the Colorado River.  Hulsey Lake to the fire tower is “only” an altitude change of about 2200 ft.  Of course, the tower is at something like 10,866 ft, so that counts for something, right?

Plans change, though.  But more on that later.

Rant: Why why why do we humans do what we do?

I’m trying hard to not let myself get outraged every time I see the destruction caused by the 2011 Wallow Fire.  So much of the forest is gone forever (well, at least my lifetime) and it’s there, in my face, every hike up from Hulsey Lake.

Photo of Wallow Fire burn area

Wallow Fire burn area

We aren’t getting as much precipitation in the southwest as we used to.  Aspen is taking advantage of the newly available real estate but there’s little evidence of regrowth of conifers.  It makes me crazy that people (read environmental nonprofit organizations that do no environmental work other than file lawsuits) have been so dead-set against logging that the USFS has not been able to maintain forest health through thinning or reduction of hazardous fuels — so now whole forests burn down and wildlife is killed and, oh yeah, homes and human lives are taken, too.

Way to go enviros.

And it’s too late now.  The problem can’t be fixed, even if there was a way through the bureaucracy and litigation. Mother Nature has reacted to what we created with our socio-economic/political approach to management of natural resources, which may benefit humans in the short run but it sucks in the long term. The forest’s gone and it’s uncertain if it will ever come back.

But enough of this, I’m getting myself all worked up.

I’ve learned to look between the dead skeletons to the land itself, to the long views of ridges and valleys that we can still hike, and the far distant mountains that call to me.  I don’t think of myself as someone who wants to be at the top of mountains, but if and when we get to the Escudilla fire tower we’ll be very close to the peak of the third highest mountain in Arizona. If it’s clear we will be able to see as far as Flagstaff, something like 100 miles away.

That’s worth a lot.

View of the White Mountains of AZ

Equipment update

Boots

I discovered a major thing… alternative lacing.  Experienced hikers will no doubt roll their eyes (duh) when I say I have just now, after all these years and so many miles, discovered that I don’t have to lace my boots the way they were when I brought them home from the store.

Yes, it’s true!  I can lace my boots any old which way I want.  There are no lace police to stop me.

I should have guessed as much.  I mean, kids walk around with their laces just flopping rather than being threaded through those holes and hooks and D-rings.  It took a long time for my brain to connect what I had seen with my desire for happy feet. When I finally did, naturally I googled it.

Of course there are YouTubes and, for those of us who can still read, web pages with instructions on how to lace hiking boots.  As I’m a fan of learning via reading rather than by watching, here are a few links for you to try out: REIBackpacker, and GoreTex. They’re not the only ones, of course, but hey, you can Google it yourself or find some YouTubes to look at.

So, about that lacing.  Apparently there are not only alternatives for that, but there are options for tying those laces.  Who knew!

I have been experimenting on my Vasque boots and my Skecher hiking shoes.  Surgeons’ knots!  Window lacing!  Boot heel lock!  But wait — there’s more!

Last time Laura and I did the long hike at Hulsey Lake in AZ when I was wearing my Vasques, I got a heel blister from rubbing.  Little did I know that the cause is the same for heel blistering and feet sliding forward in the boots and smashing big toes (at minimum – my smashing involves three toes on each foot).  I discovered that I needed to lock in my heel, which I had attempted to do by just tightening the heck out of the laces, thereby causing all sorts of discomfort while not actually solving the problem.

So I studied the advice and then I relaced.  I hiked some, then changed the configuration several times till at last — oh my!  Hiking boots that fit like socks, with lots of wiggle room for my toes but without my foot moving all over the place.  Zowie!

I also figured out that there’s a reason for hooks being where they are, and D-rings, and plain holes, and leather lace tubes… they’re not just for decoration. Why don’t boots come with instructions?

Photo of Osprey backpack

Backpack

I decided to dig out my old Osprey backpack.  It’s old in years, but not that old in miles.  I haven’t used it since a week-long hike in the Gulf Islands, less than ten years ago I think, but still.  It’s been mostly stashed in a bottom drawer of a chest that otherwise contains fabric for wall hangings.

The day pack I’ve been using just isn’t working for me.  It’s meant for someone who’s taking a stroll rather than someone who’s going out for a whole day and might need to haul some real stuff along, like first aid, water, snacks, gloves, extra vest, emergency blanket (the foil kind), and last but not least toilet paper. Having to dig around to find what you want means that you have a hard time finding anything.  It means taking the pack off for the least little thing, like throat lozenges.

The day pack also was uncomfortable loaded up.  I never could find a comfortable balance between the weight carried on my hips vs. on my shoulders.  I suspect that is partly because the day pack isn’t long enough for my back, but no matter.  Not enough easily accessible pockets means it’s a reject for Grand Canyon.

I thought the Osprey would be overkill for a day hike, but it turned out to be wonderful not loaded down like it was when we hiked the Canyon ten years ago.  Then I was carrying everything I needed for three days.  Now I’m carrying just what I need for a day hike because we’re getting our overnight stuff down to Phantom Ranch via the mule pack train.

Hey, why not?  Mules gotta earn a living, too.

Change of plans

So now we’re not going for the fire tower on Friday.  Laura’s had something come up and needs to stay home that day.  Plus yesterday we accidentally went for a ten mile hike.

Laura lives about four miles from me.  Sometimes we hike out from our houses and meet halfway.  Yesterday the intention was for us to meet up so I could give her some KT Tape to try for a pulled muscle.  Each of us would then get in a quick four mile walk while accomplishing an errand.

It’s a measure of how conditioned we’ve gotten that after I handed her the tape and we chatted about that for a moment, I mentioned that I had planned on walking a little further just so I could rack up a bit more distance.  Well, when we got to the first logical turn-around point, we decided to walk just a bit more.  And then after that bit — a bit more than that.  Ultimately it amounted to over nine miles of hike, and when added to my ranch chore steps my Fitbit told me I had covered 10.55 miles yesterday.

Not bad!

What with Christmas prep plus my getting ready to welcome a dog back into my life (a story for another time), we’re putting off the fire tower hike till another day.  I’m not too worried about the change in our training schedule.  I think I’ve gotten the equipment issues mostly settled and my capacity to hike the distance needed has been reached.

But the up and down, that’s another thing.  That’s the real challenge of Grand Canyon, after all.  It’s not just a hike in the woods.

 

 

Farewell fish

Horse drinking from water trough "After the heron" (c) 2018 Lif Strand It didn’t have to happen but what did I expect?  I knew if I didn’t take defensive measures I’d lose them. There would ultimately be no escape because they were besieged by an enemy that had the patience of one who had felt hunger before and would feel it again.

But still. It was hard to imagine being consumed alive.  Down the gullet. Inevitable, yes, but still.

Years ago in a science fiction book I read this one line that has stuck with me ever since: all things eat, all things are eaten.  I wish I could remember where I read it because it is a concept I have to remind myself about all the time.

When I saw the oily slick on the water and when the mare went to drink and no fish congregated around her lips I knew all were gone. Last night they were there, this morning, sometime before I went out to feed, probably while the gentle rain fell through the gloom of dawn, a great blue heron had paused on its way south to fortify itself for the rest of its flight.

I could not begrudge the bird, and it was my fault that there were no survivors. I could have put screen over the center of the trough but I didn’t. Some of those fish were ten years and more old. Now they were calories fueling a bird.

PS — 10/16  Good news!  There are a couple goldfish left.  Understandably, they are unwilling to come up to a horse’s lips in search of food right now.

Look but don’t touch

Cholla blossomSometimes when I get to feeling that maybe it’s a little too hard living here in my part of New Mexico, particularly at nearly a mile and a half above sea level, the land gently reminds me why I’m here.

Right now we’re all waiting, hoping, praying for rain.  Not too much rain, mind you, not all at once.  That’s a male rain and it leads to floods.  No, we want a daily dose of gentle female rain that soaks into the soil.

When it finally does rain it’s like a miracle how little it takes  for plants to respond.  It’s a desert phenomenon:  The air smells fresh, withered grass turns green in hours, flowers blossom overnight.

Everything is in a rush to attract, to reproduce.  We don’t get all that much rain.  Winters are long.  Strategies for survival are a necessity.

There are the hardy ones, the few plants that gamble on rain to come.  They get going early so they have longer to reproduce and, perhaps, to store up for the coming times of dry and cold.  There are seeds that germinate even though nighttime temperatures are still below freezing and daytime temps aren’t much above.  There are plants with tough stems that put out bits of green and even blossom early on, while the rest of the world is still dust.  Sometimes they die back and come back.  Tough plants for a tough climate.

But critters are desperate for moisture as well.  For every early leaf there is an insect or animal that lusts for fresh, moist, tender greens.  So plants have developed other strategies as well.  Around here it seems everything has thorns, needles, burrs,  prickles, or barbs.  Sharp ones that always end up in me.

They still have beauty, these tough plants.  It’s not always obvious, but it’s there.   I walk carefully through the sere grama grass that can slice the skin, and step around pale amaranth stems that appear so deceptively fluffy.  So intent am I on not getting scratched, pierced, and scraped that I almost miss it: the chartreuse of a fragile cholla blossom nestled in the midst of sharp cactus needles and the barbs of last year’s tumbleweed.

I am once again reminded why I am here.  I am blessed to be reminded every day that all I have to do is look and I will find beauty.  I am blessed to be reminded that treasures are most valuable when they are rare.

And I am so very thankful.

 

April Snow

Snow at dusk in April

It had been a brutal day, a hard edged wind coming from the north and cutting through the many layers she wore.  Even when the sun broke through the heavy clouds it was cold, cold for late April.  But here in the mountains of New Mexico weather was like that.  Nothing unusual at all.

For a brief moment at sunset a rosy golden light limned the mesa top, gone as quickly as it had come.  She smelled rain, but there was nothing yet to moisten the dust and the struggling grass that was already turning gray with thirst.  It would come, though, she knew it.  If she could smell it, it would come.

She built a fire in the wood stove, smiling at the fancy she’d had that she was done building fires till next fall.  She settled into the evening, waiting.

The wind stopped.  The world held its breath.  Silently fluffy white flakes drifted down into the dusk, covering the branches of the apple trees that were only this morning braving the first bright green leaves of spring.

The rape of a state

Viewscape pollution - hundreds of wind turbines

Is this really fighting climate change? Or is it just more pollution of a different kind?

I read an opinion article in the Albuquerque Journal this morning, New Mexico out in front on wind power, by Kevin Robinson-Avila.  It made me want to weep.

It seems to me that selling the world on the idea of creating green energy asks us to focus on “green” while minimizing the full cost of increasing energy production.  As if the only important point was that the energy comes from the sun or the wind.  Can we afford to believe that the true cost can be measured solely in dollars that yield immediate energy gain? 

I mean, look who’s selling us the idea: corporations that make big (subsidized!) bucks for creating energy in the name of “sustainable energy”, or “fighting climate change”.  Green energy promoted by oil companies?  By for-profit corporations that have been set up just to create wind farms?  Corporations that are so well known for their interest in saving the environment? Uh huh. 

Here’s the question I have: is “green” energy really green? What are we really being sold?

What’s really going on?

The blind rush to develop wind power in the Land of Enchantment dwells on the wonderfulness of “green” energy and how much money would come from from it. But where is the consideration for the long-term impacts of thousands of square miles of wind farms and transmission towers on residents? Where is the discussion of the impacts on the wildlife of our vast grasslands that will be forced… where? To live in a forest of wind turbines? Or to die, because all their habitat has been stolen?

Where is the disclosure of what covering the open land with wind farms will do to New Mexico’s beauty? Not just the views, but the noise.  A pollution of a whole other sort.

When do we see any analysis of the impact on tourism? I mean, really — who will want to drive around a place where most of what they see looks like New Jersey? (sorry NJ, but my memories of you are of lots of towers and wires everywhere).

Where is the discussion of the non-monetary costs of “green” energy and what these projects will truly do to (not for) our state?

Because forget NIMBY*.  Let’s talk benefits.

Simply speaking:  What do New Mexicans get for giving up what makes our state unique?  I’ll tell you what: not much.

First, let’s remember that most, if not all, of this energy is going out of state. Second, let’s remember that the building rush may require lots of workers, but will they be New Mexicans? Will New Mexicans only be offered the lowest-paying grunt labor?  Third, after construction the only jobs will be in maintenance, and that requires hardly any workers.  We are talking dozens, not thousands of jobs — and will New Mexicans be hired for those jobs or will the corporations send their own trained workers?

Fourth, fifth, and on to infinity, let’s never ever forget to follow the money.  These wind farms proposals are put forth by energy resellers.  They get subsidized to construct wind farms on public land, they get tax breaks for generating green energy, and they turn around and sell the generated energy… to other resellers in other states.  Little, if any, of that energy gets used in New Mexican homes.  Little, if any, of that money winds up in New Mexican coffers.

RIP Land of Enchantment

Land of Enchantment? Let’s also remember that when you fill all the open space with wind turbines and transmission lines, it will no longer be enchanting. It will be the Land of Ugly. And it will still be the Land of the Poor, because most people (including me) feel that caring for the environment, as well as for the greater good of humankind, and for our lovely state, should be a selfless thing, and such people don’t understand that the LLCs and corporations aren’t selfless, but rather are greedy.

And greed, taken to the extreme, is a kind of evil.  To quote a favorite author of mine, Mercedes Lackey in her book Arrow’s Fall, “…evil is a kind of ultimate greed, a greed that is so all-encompassing that it can’t ever see anything lovely, rare, or precious without wanting to possess it.” 

Or, I might add, to exploit it.

It really is sad.  It makes me want to weep.  Our lovely New Mexico, Land of Enchantment, is being raped. Yes, I use that word.  Rape is using force to take what is not being offered.  We want green energy, but are we really offering all that is beautiful and uniquely ours, offering our wildlife habitat, our peace and quiet — everything we love?  Pressure is on us to give in.  To give it all up.

It’s rape all right.  And it seems most everyone is telling us we should relax and enjoy it.

Wind turbines against a sunset sky

Is this the Enchantment you had in mind?

 

*NIMBY = Not In My Back Yard.  Because many New Mexicans would be literally surrounded by these wind farms.  Not just back yards, but in side yards and front yards.  For miles and miles and miles.

If you like my writing, you might consider tipping me by becoming a Patreon supporter (a buck a month is all!).  Just a thought, not a requirement.
CLICK HERE for PATREON

The one solution that’s not been tried

Female Mexican wolf

A female Mexican gray wolf, seen upon her release in Arizona in 1998 as part of the federal reintroduction program, eventually died in captivity. (Source: Arizona Game And Fish Department)

The Mexican wolf program is supposed to reintroduce wolves to the wilds of Arizona and New Mexico. In my opinion, the project been doomed to failure from day one, but that’s a topic for another day. What I’m considering today is the one approach to management of Mexican wolves that’s never been tried, the one approach that actually might have a good chance of succeeding. The one that’s never going to happen, not in today’s world.

That is, stop messing with the wolves.

Really. Leave them alone. Wolves have absolutely no problem breeding and spreading out in any area that’s suitable for them. The government’s given them the place, so now why not give them a chance to do what comes naturally?

Wolves are intelligent. They’re highly successful apex predators that live and hunt in close-knit groups called packs. In the wild, packs are stable hierarchical structures, with an alpha male and female that typically mate for life. Pups grow up with pack members teaching the young everything they need to know about how to be an apex predator. When they’re old enough, young wolves move out of the pack to join other established packs or create new ones. Mother Nature (time/natural selection) has cleverly created a perfect system to ensure species survival — genetic diversity and increasing population are achieved through the reward of a highly social life for pack members and a higher chance of survival for individuals. And intelligence. Did I mention that wolves are smart?

Mother Nature knows best. But for twenty years the Mexican wolf program has done it’s best to ignore the nature of wolves. For twenty years the program has done everything possible to create dysfunctional packs.

And people wonder why the program has been so unsuccessful.

Consider this: The very things that it takes to make for cohesive, successful wolf packs — packs being the very heart of wolf survival — are all disrupted by the management practices of the Mexican wolf program.  Maybe the reason the program has such poor results is because the program is driving the wolves crazy.

Breeding animals are chosen by the program for their genetics, instead of by wolves who lead packs. Here is a species where alpha pack animals usually mate for life — but the Mexican wolf program doesn’t give their breeding animals that option.  Some of them don’t even get to mate.  Semen is harvested.  Females are inseminated.

Wild wolves don’t examine each other’s genetic makeup before bonding.  They prove themselves within the pack structure, they lead by having the right disposition and skills, and they breed because they have proved their suitability through doing.  There is more to individual, pack, and species success than a biologist’s determination of ideal genetic structure.  Success in the wild depends on brains and the strength of a pack.

There are no packs for captive breeding wolves, so the wolves that are transferred to the wild from captive breeding programs have not been educated to hunt.  They haven’t been educated, actually, in any way to be normal mentally healthy wolves.  Humans can’t give that to wolves.  Only wolves can.  But the wolves are ripped away from any familial type relationships they might manage to develop.  If they are lucky enough they’ll be dumped into the wild with other “genetically suitable” wolves that aren’t necessarily pack members.  But they will still need to fumble their way to a successful hunt (for how do they learn to hunt in captivity?) in strange country they have not been raised in and for prey of a type they may never have encountered before.  And on top of that, they are trespassers in the territory of another pack.

Then, supposing they survive — meaning they haven’t started hanging around humans for a handout, or killing livestock or pets — the wolf program never allows wolves to gradually get wild.  No, they’re trapped every few years to be vaccinated, to have physical exams, and to have their tracking collar batteries changed if they’re going to be left in the wild.  Or they’re moved to a different pack that biologists have determined would be better, or taken back to captivity to be used for breeding.  Whatever happens to them, they are handled by humans, fed by humans, and the wolves get used to being around humans.  They lose their fear of humans — if they ever had any to start with.

Mexican wolf pup born in captivity, the result of artificial insemination

A three-week-old Mexican gray wolf pup, born as a result of artificial insemination.  \ ENDANGERED WOLF CENTER

If they’re born in captivity, they’re handled and fussed over.  They’re usually raised in facilities that let humans come and view them.  And the wolves view back.  What natural, healthy fear will a grown wolf have if it has grown up being carried around by humans as a baby?  What will prevent a grown wolf from seeking out the first “pack” they knew — the company of humans?

The worst thing that has ever happened to Mexican wolves is the Mexican wolf program.  

I just wish they’d put the whole program on hiatus for ten years.  Or forever. Stop capturing them to vaccinate, change collar batteries, give them physical exams. Stop raiding dens and planting pups that are the result of captive breeding programs.  Stop releasing wolves.  If wolves are trapped or removed from the wild because they are livestock-killers, or they’re nuisance wolves (meaning they hang around humans) then put them in captivity and never ever release them into the wild again.  Just stop it all.

It’s been 20 years since this fiasco of a program was started.  If wolves haven’t managed to thrive in the wild by now, maybe it’s because of the wolf program.  Maybe if the one approach that’s never been used was taken — leaving wolves alone to develop naturally — the Mexican wolf population might not just grow, but thrive.  Maybe if mentally healthy individuals were allowed to form functional packs without human intervention, livestock killing incidents would go down on their own.

Maybe all it would take for Mexican wolf reintroduction success would be to allow wolves to become wild and mentally healthy on their own.

But we will never know, because too much money is made off the Mexican wolf program. Agencies wouldn’t get their funding. The lawsuit-crazy enviro groups would have nothing to sue about, and couldn’t appeal to the public for more donations.  Follow the money.  It always tells you where the problems are.  RIP Mexican wolves, the least important factor in the Mexican wolf program.

US Air Force OK with destroying the Gila Wilderness

Gila Wilderness 1922



“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”  Wilderness Act of 1964 (Pub.L. 88–577)

The Gila Wilderness was designated the world’s first wilderness area on June 3, 1924.  If the US Air Force has its way, it’ll become a burning trash dump.

A Holloman Air Force Base proposal would create a new military operations area (MOA) over the Gila and Aldo Leopold wilderness areas of the Gila National Forest (and over into Arizona, too). The Air Force wants up to ten thousand F-16 flights per year (that’s more than one an hour 24/7), dropping  flares and chaff as they fly over.

The Air Force didn’t think to bother notifying the public* where the MOA is proposed (Grant and Catron County in New Mexico) about this idea.  Instead the Air Force held meetings in other municipalities nowhere near the directly affected area.

Pretty sneaky, if you ask me.

So what will happen if the MOA goes through?

You mean the screaming of jet planes constantly zooming over what’s supposed to be wilderness (“in natural condition” 11 U.S.C. § 1131(a)) isn’t enough?  Well, there’s more.  Such as the trashing of the forest.  Literally.  The Air Force wants to drop chaff and set off flares (military aircraft often combine chaff with flare dispensers), carpeting the forest with military debris and maybe just burning the place down.  How much chaff and flares I don’t know… maybe that is in the Air Force’s environmental impact statement (EIS).  But with up to 10,000 flights a year I’m thinking we’re talking tons.

Chaff

Chaff is meant to confuse radar.  It’s made of millions of tiny aluminum or zinc coated fibers that are ejected from a jet and then are blown around by the turbulence of the jet’s wake and from whatever wind there is that day.  It can end up far from the release point.

Chaff fibers are about the thickness of a human hair and range in length from about a third of an inch to around three inches long.  The fibers are dispensed in cartridges or projectiles, so it’s not only chaff, but the debris from the containers (paper, cardboard, styrene caps, pistons, and other stuff) that ends up on the ground.

Once the chaff and debris is on the ground, it can be blown around by wind and updrafts from wildfire.  While inhalation is not considered to be a major issue (by people who don’t have to breathe it), wild animals will inevitably consume the chaff because it will be everywhere.  It will blanket the forest floor, the plants, and the animals themselves (not to mention hikers, bikers, hunters, and campers) with metal coated glass fibers.  And let’s not forget that these fibers and associated debris will also pollute the streams… water that ultimately will end up in Phoenix, AZ.  But hey, they have water filters over there, don’t they?

There have been few to no peer-reviewed studies examining the impact of chaff on wildlife and the environment, or humans either, for that matter.  Little is known about the breakdown of chaff in soil or in water.  It doesn’t take a study to know this:  given what chaff is made of, it’s not going to go away soon.

But hey, the Air Force is pretty sure that the stuff won’t hurt anything.

Flares being deployed from a F-16

Flares being deployed from a F-16

Flares are used to confuse heat-seeking missiles. Most are magnesium pellets ejected from tubes to ignite in the air behind the aircraft. The flares burn at temperatures above 2,000° F.   As hot as magma ejected from a volcano.

The flare pellets burn as they fall to the ground.  To the dry trees and brush below.  The place where there are no roads because it’s wilderness, so fire fighters can’t even get there unless they hike in.

If the flares don’t burn the forest down when they land, at minimum what their deployment will do is add to the feeling that there’s a war’s going on.  Jets screaming overhead.  Explosions blasting day and night.  Blinding lights destroying dark skies.

Bye by peace and quiet.  Farewell tranquility.  Too bad, wilderness.

Wildfire burning in the Gila National Forest

The future of the Gila Wilderness?

What could  they possibly be thinking?

I’m guessing the Air Force is thinking only about the Air Force.  They’re relying on people being so fearful about war that sacrificing the world’s oldest wilderness so fighter pilots have another place to train is an acceptable price.

I don’t know what they’re really thinking, but I do know that the decisions will be made by people who don’t value wild places.

Just think:  the Gila National Forest is where the endangered Mexican wolf is supposed to survive.  Where are the studies on the impacts on the wolves?  And what about the endangered spotted owl.?  And all the other threatened and endangered species in the Gila?   Let’s not forget the impact on the Cosmic Campground (the first International Dark Sky Sanctuary on National Forest System lands and also in North America, located between the Gila Wilderness and the Blue Range Primitive Area).  Has anyone bothered checking into potential damage to the Gila Cliff Dwellings from the vibrations of hourly (or more frequent) low flying jets and/or flare explosions?

No matter who you are, rancher, environmentalist, Continental Divide Trail hiker or biker, hunter, wildlife photographer, or just someone who likes to walk in the woods, it seems to me you’d be as outraged by this Air Force proposal as I am.

While I am not an advocate of petitions, for those who are unwilling or unable to take personal action there is a petition sponsored by the Gila Conservation Coalition at https://www.change.org/p/holloman-air-force-base-military-overflights-threaten-the-gila-wilderness

Better yet, write your legislators.  Write to the Air Force.  Call them.  Email them.  Make a noise in this world.
Holloman AFB Public Affairs Office
Mr. Tommy Fuller
(575) 572-1831 ext. 5406
tommy.fuller@us.af.mil

* Edited due to information received from Catron County Commissioner Anita Hand (District 1) and further research:  The Catron County Commission received a letter about the EIS too late to act on before the scoping period had closed (the Notice of Intent was published August 25, 2017; there should have been a 45 day comment period but the comment deadline was September 15, 2017).  Holloman airspace analyst Alan Shafer has stated that Holloman also sent letters to both Grant County Commission Chair Brett Kasten and County Manager Charlene Webb but Kasten said that he had no recollection of receiving any letter.  Grant County Commission did hold a special meeting to address the issue. but this was after the comment deadline  The only public scoping meetings were held by the Air Force in Carlsbad, Truth or Consequences and Las Cruces.  No scoping meetings were held in Grant or Catron County. [return to top]

Note also that the draft EIS is not available on the Holloman AFB EIS website.  If it exists somewhere, this writer sure can’t find it.  

Further reading:  Gila National Forest weighs in on Air Force’s airspace proposal