August is the best month to visit Santa Fe. Petunias cascade out of hanging baskets on the Plaza, Carmen’s arias waft across the sagebrush and pinyons after sunset, and a patient waiter recommends the perfect glass of red to accompany the duck enchilada mole. For those of us who live in this charming city and run the risk of taking it for granted, August is a good month to escape, if only for a very short while.
Dave and I did just that on Wednesday last week. We shut off the computers, locked the office door behind us, leaving stacks of files on our desks, and pointed the car south on I25. I had packed the map of New Mexico and a cooler filled with sandwiches, chips, and iced tea in the front; the bottle of whiskey was locked in the trunk with the suitcases.
Our destination was the small town of Truth or Consequences in the southwestern part of the state where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was conducting a public hearing to discuss the fate of the Mexican gray wolf. We stopped once on the 200 mile trip at the Walking Sands rest area south of Albuquerque to stretch our legs, photograph the beware of rattlesnakes sign, and trade places in the car. I drove the last 90 miles watching thunderstorms move from west to east, sweeping across the San Mateo Mountains and Black Range. Sporadic downpours slowed us down, but ended as quickly as they began.
We arrived in T or C, known best for its hot springs and 1951 name change, with just enough time to grab a taco at Maria’s before the start of the hearing. Two local police cars cruised the neighborhood next to the convention center while we looked for a place to park.
Fish and Wildlife was just beginning their Power Point presentation when we took our seats. About two hundred people turned out–ranchers, birders, hunters, campers, and concerned citizens. They represented farm bureaus, environmental groups, and, sometimes, just themselves. Seventy-six got the chance to speak, uninterrupted, for two minutes each, addressing their comments to a moderator and Benjamin Tuggle, Fish and Wildlife’s Southwest Regional Director.
Afterward Dave and I had a long soak in one of the mineral baths at the Sierra Grande Lodge, time to reflect on all we had heard. Like most of the hearings conducted in New Mexico and Arizona over the past year the comments favored the wolves by about two to one with most of the speakers asking for continued protection and expanded territory for the lobos. Those against cited the loss of cattle to depredation, the pressure on deer and elk populations, and the cost of the reintroduction effort as reasons the program should not be expanded.
On Thursday we returned to Santa Fe–no time to make a side trip to the nearby Gila Wilderness where less than month ago a family of wolves called the Coronado Pack was released. Another trip, we promised ourselves.
It’s been a week and I am still listening to my recording of the hearing, transcribing comments, both pro and con, for a future post. Luckily, there are still a few reporters who do that work quickly and accurately. I found this account of the proceedings in the online edition of the Silver City Daily Press the day after the meeting.