Still Waiting

Photo Credit: Mark Dumont Flickr via Compfight cc

Any day now the new recovery plan for Mexican gray wolves will be released.  Here’s my story, published in the Albuquerque Journal, about New Mexico’s Leopold Pack and the importance of a new plan.

The Red Wolves of North Carolina

Note:  The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is working on an environmental impact statement which will determine how the red wolf population and habitat will be managed going forward.  They are accepting public comments through July 24th, 2017.  The Red Wolf Coalition (RWC) prepared this guide to writing an effective letter.

On April 28th six red wolf pups were born at the Museum of Life and Science (Museum) in Durham, North Carolina.  Two did not survive, but the four remaining pups are now almost twelve-weeks-old.  They live in a woodland habitat with their parents, F1858 and M1784.

Red wolf pups
Photo Credit: Ryan Nordsven/USFWS

Ancestors of red wolves originally roamed the southeastern United States from Florida to Pennsylvania and as far west as Texas.  Cousins to the gray wolf, they have the same long legs and rounded ears, but are smaller and have a reddish tint to their black and gray coats.

In the wild they live in small family groups consisting of the adults and juveniles, one- to two-years-old, who help raise new pups.  They mostly hunt small mammals, rabbits, raccoons and the occasional deer.  But like other wolves in the U.S. their numbers dwindled dramatically in the 20th Century due to habitat loss and conflicts with humans.  They were listed as endangered in 1967 and became extinct in the wild in 1980.

The wolves at the Museum are part of a decades-long effort to restore the population.  In 1987 the first red wolves were released back into a portion of their native habitat in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.  Today there are less than 300 red wolves, most of them living in captivity with a small population of 40-50 in the wild.

It’s a familiar story.  Eleven years after the first red wolves were released in North Carolina, Mexican gray wolves were reintroduced in Arizona and New Mexico.  The Mexican wolf program was based, at least in part, on the red wolf program. Both populations of wolves face ongoing challenges in their recovery.  Advocates continue to fight to increase their numbers in the wild and to expand their access to more habitat.

Female 1287 at SSP site Museum Life and Science (Durham, NC).
Photo credit: B. Bartel/USFWS

I’ve followed red wolves from a distance for a couple of years, but when I read about the new pups on  RWC’s Facebook page I found myself engaged in their progress via “pupdates” posted on the Museum’s zoo keeper’s blog.  Complete with photos and videos, the posts provide a window into  the first weeks of a wolf pup’s life.

A few of the notes:  At two-weeks the pups’ coats were getting lighter in color and their eyes were beginning to open.  A week later Mom moved one of the pups (carrying it in her mouth) outside the den, but returned it later that day.  At four-weeks Dad brought them a knuckle bone to chew on.  At five-weeks they were more-widely exploring the enclosure, climbing up the cliff to another den site, sometimes sliding back down.  They were also beginning to eat solid food, regurgitated for them by Mom and Dad.  By six-weeks they all had teeth.  A week later they had learned to howl.

And then on a Monday morning in mid-June, three of the pups escaped, probably through an enlarged spot in the fence (just big enough for a seven-week old pup to squeeze through).  While it must have been a grand adventure for the pups (until they realized they couldn’t get back in), it had to be a heart-stopping event for the zoo keepers.  Luckily, the little rascals were still contained within the Museum’s perimeter fence.  Dad took it in stride and provided food for the pups at the fence line.  Two pups were recaptured within hours, but the third spent the night outside.  By noon the next day she was back in the enclosure with Mom, Dad and her three siblings.

Juvenile male red wolf waiting to be released
Photo Credit: R. Nordsven/USFWS

Updates are less frequent now as the pups put on weight and grow into their feet.

Next week they will be three-months-old and the USFWS will close the comment period on a proposed rule change that will impact the future of all red wolves.

Here’s hoping these pups and their parents have an opportunity to live out their lives in the wild, chasing rabbits and falling asleep with full stomachs under the stars.

Photos in this post are from the Red Wolves Flickr Track the Pack photostream.  To see F1858, M1784 and their pups check out the “pupdates“.  Many thanks to Sherry Samuels for her posts that have allowed the public to get to know this family of endangered red wolves!




Losing–The Baldy Pack

Photo Credit: Mark Dumont Flickr via Compfight cc

My short piece about the Baldy Pack and the politics of wolf reintroduction is in the June issue of The Sun in the “Readers Write” column.

As published:

On November 8, 2016, Donald J. Trump was elected president of the United States. Now, three weeks later, winter has arrived in the White Mountains of Arizona.  Temperatures have dropped to single digits, and there is new snow on the ground.  Undeterred by the cold, two Mexican wolves trot through stands of ponderosa pine and weave among bare aspen trees.  A mated pair, they are tracking a herd of elk.  The heavy undercoats they have grown over the last few months keep them warm and dry.

The wolves know nothing of politics or national borders.  Their territory straddles the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest (ASNF) and the Fort Apache Indian Reservation (FAIR) in the shadow of Mount Baldy.  They are two of fewer than a hundred Mexican gray wolves left in the wild.  Threats to their population abound:  A blow to the head from the hoof of an elk.  Ambush by a mountain lion.  Starvation.  Humans with vehicles and guns.  And inbreeding.  Local resistance—primarily from ranchers and hunters—to reintroducing wolves has made it nearly impossible to move animals bred in captivity into the wild.

Our pair of wolves, though, are not related.  In January or February, if all goes well, they will breed.  By then a new president will have been sworn in.  So far the incoming administration has shown little regard for endangered species.  There are numerous bills and amendments in Congress that aim to cut funding for the reintroduction effort and possibly remove wolves from the endangered-species list, stripping all protection.  These bills are nothing new, but after January 20 we will have a president who is likely to sign them.

The days are growing shorter.  The two wolves run silently through the woods.  They are lucky: they do not know they have lost.


Six months have passed since I wrote those words.  In November and December the two wolves, M1347 and f1445, were “located within their traditional territory in the eastern portion of the FAIR and the northern portion of the ASNF.”  Since then they have not been located according to the monthly status reports.

I hope for the best, but fear the worst.

Update July 13, 2017
Monthly Project Update for May 2017 “It has been more than three months since the Baldy Pack was located and they are now considered fate unknown.”


Birdwatching in Orlando

In the end I left my binoculars and field guide at home. The trip was a short one for Dave to attend a convention in Orlando where we stayed on International Drive (I-Drive)—an eleven-mile strip of chain restaurants, outlet malls, and amusement parks—not an obvious place to look for nature.

April was a hectic travel month with one day between west and east coast trips, so I only had time for a quick glance at a map before we repacked our suitcases and ran for a flight to Florida. A wildlife refuge had caught my eye, but it wasn’t until my first morning in Orlando that I got a chance to check it out more closely.

Dusky Seaside Sparrow by John James Audubon

St. Johns Refuge is located 45 miles east of the city, established in 1971 along the St. Johns River to protect the habitat of the endangered dusky seaside sparrow.  The little songbird has since been declared extinct.  The refuge is maintained today for several other threatened and endangered species but is closed to the public.

On my second day I was drinking a cup of coffee at a sidewalk table when I noticed the ducks.  Mallards—youngsters, I think.  They were foraging in the planter between I-Drive and the parking lot.  Two of them got into a scrap just before one of the females waddled  into the parking lot to cross over to another landscaped area, no different from the first: crape myrtles, honeysuckle, monkey grass.  I held my breath as she dawdled, crossing the driveway leading to the Starbuck’s drive-thru.  I feared a caffeine-deprived, late-to-work commuter would come wheeling in and run over her, but she made it.  The others were wise enough to fly across the drive into the Walgreen’s flower bed.  When I left a group of noisy crows had gathered on the roof to lecture the invading ducks.

Photo Credit: Paula Nixon

A few hours later at a bustling outdoor mall this guy with the crazy hairdo caught my eye.  It took me a moment to figure out he was a fledging—a starling, I think.  I stopped and watched from a distance as his mom encouraged him and he made a short clumsy flight up to an awning.  Shoppers hurried through the plaza never giving the birds a second glance. When Mom disappeared the youngster was stuck, couldn’t remember how to get his wings moving.  I forced myself to leave, certain she was nearby and would soon return to continue his flying lessons.

And that was the highlight of my trip to Orlando—not bad for never straying more than a few blocks off of I-Drive!


To Eat Just Once

To Eat Just Once:
Remembering a Ranger Lecture at
Yellowstone National Park
For Mel

After they kill, the wolves eat just once.

The pack, all tooth and jaw, with ribcages that jut
like opened Texas toothpick knives, feasts.

Their gray bellies fill and sag with new meat.

They used to eat twice or even three times
from downed prey, a straggling old deer or a slow fawn—

their dead eyes, like tumbled obsidian, still catching light—
the body dragged into an old tree

or quickly buried and left for later.
However, ranchers started poisoning

hidden carcasses so that at the second
meal, the wolves, bloated with pain,

would die.  Some, however, did live
and taught the others to eat just once

and leave like a swift wind,
a scattered gray line galloping into night.
—Kevin Rabas Lisa’s Flying Electric Piano

I am ending where I started, at the beginning of April, with a poem about wolves.   I have never met Kevin Rabas, but he was kind enough to allow me to reprint the full text of his poem. In this interview with KCUR 89.3 he offered three tips for writers.

Thank you Kevin and congratulations on being named the next Poet Laureate of Kansas!

Bear Season

We all want to see a mammal.
Squirrels & snowshoe hares don’t count.
Voles don’t count. Something, preferably,
that could do us harm.
Elizabeth Bradfield

Across the country from Connecticut to Mississippi* to California  bears are waking up and lumbering out of their dens.

No sign of them in my neighborhood yet–I’m hoping there’s enough food on the mountain to satisfy them and keep them out of trouble.

*Natchez: A wildlife biologist is warning people not to feed a young black bear that’s been wandering the streets of downtown.  US Today 4/19/17

Discovering William Stafford

Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.
—William Stafford

Years ago I heard my first William Stafford poem on the radio program Writer’s Almanac.  Garrison Keillor mentioned that Stafford was born in Hutchinson, Kansas in 1914 and I was curious to know more about him. Much to my surprise he had graduated from Liberal High School, my high school, but I  don’t remember ever hearing him mentioned.  Maybe I wasn’t paying attention.  

I’ve been looking for the perfect poem of his to share but have been unable to find the one about minnows that I wanted to post.  The one linked below is a new one to me, a chance encounter on a dark road.

Traveling through the Dark 



Spring Cleaning

Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house
Kobayashi Issa

My housekeeping philosophy until the imminent arrival of company. Time to get out the dust mop—all spiders have got to go!



a big-nosed roan gelding, calm as a president’s portrait
lives in the rectangle that leads to the stalls.  We call it
the motel lobby. Wise old campaigner, he dunks his

hay in the water bucket to soften it, then visits the others
who hang their heads over their dutch doors. Sometimes
he sprawls out flat to nap in his commodious quarters.
Maxine Cumin

One of my favorites—a poem about a horse named Jack and so much more.




Little Goats

The little goats like my mouth and fingers,
and one stands up against the wire fence, and taps on the fence board
a hoof made blacker by the dirt of the field.
Mark Doty

I discovered Pescadero and Mark Doty in The New Yorker.  The magazine recently launched a new feature on Twitter, a poem a day from their archives.  Check it out at @tnypoetry.

Yes.  I know my formatting was messed up on yesterday’s poem-—the trials of trying to post from a smart phone.  It’s fixed now.